Political Notebook: Gay men seek East Bay school board seats

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 19, 2024
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Austin Bruckner Carrillo, left, is running for the Hayward school board, while Charlie Jones is seeking a seat on the Pleasanton school board. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Austin Bruckner Carrillo, left, is running for the Hayward school board, while Charlie Jones is seeking a seat on the Pleasanton school board. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

In the East Bay city of Hayward, Austin Bruckner Carrillo is seeking a school board seat this November. Meanwhile, Hayward public school teacher Charlie Jones is running for a school board seat in Pleasanton where he lives.

It marks the first time the gay candidates have sought elected office. Both are believed to be the first out candidates to run for board seats in their respective school districts.

Carrillo, 30, who is the associate director of the Alameda County District Attorney's Community Support Bureau, is seeking one of three Hayward Unified School District board seats up this year. (It will be the last time they are voted on citywide, as starting in 2026, the K-12 district is moving to having five district-based seats.)

He launched his campaign last October and has drawn wide support from Democratic elected leaders throughout the East Bay, including Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, whom he worked for as a legislative aide. As a first-time candidate, Carrillo told the Bay Area Reporter he wanted to give himself plenty of time to introduce himself to voters.

"What I have seen in Hayward is, time and time again, we push moderate candidates for our school board who get key endorsements and never knock on a door. They end up losing," noted Carrillo, who grew up in Castro Valley and has called Hayward home for the last decade.

Being an advocate for LGBTQ students in Hayward schools is a main reason for why Carrillo is running. He purposefully held a drag fundraiser as the first of his campaign.

"I don't want to shy away from being LGBT," said Carrillo, whose partner of four years, Derek K. Ko, is a chiropractor and health care provider.

While Hayward voters have elected out candidates, Jones would be the first openly LGBTQ+ elected official in Pleasanton, which just marked its 130th anniversary as a city. Ongoing budget issues impacting the city's schools and its students prompted him to seek the open Area 4 seat on the Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees.

"These are things that put kids at risk. The budget actually harms children," said Jones, 33, who has lived in Pleasanton since he was 6 years old. "I can't stand by and watch the district cut programs that made me who I am and cut safety supports I needed when I was in high school."

It was that support he received from his teachers in high school, when he came out, that prompted him to seek a career in education.

"I knew I wanted to be a teacher because of them," said Jones, who lives near his city's downtown district.

After enrolling at Las Positas College, a community college in Livermore, Jones transferred to Arizona State University and earned a bachelor's in history — secondary education through its Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. He landed a job teaching social studies at Hayward's Tennyson High School, where Jones is now department chair and helped rewrite its history and ethnic studies course curriculum to meet the state requirements for teaching LGBTQ history.

"I wanted to come back to the Bay Area because this is the place that has made me who I am," said Jones.

Until now Jones has focused more on union and teacher activism. He serves on the board of his teachers' union. If elected a school board member, Jones said his priority will be on ensuring Pleasanton's roughly 13,200 students in kindergarten through high school are receiving the instruction and support they need to be successful.

"My biggest concern is for the classroom and the students," said Jones.

Addressing the myriad needs of students, from their education to their mental health and support outside of school, is also a key reason for why Carrillo is running. He grew up in a household where the police were routinely responding to domestic violence calls, was homeless for a time and lived in a shelter. His Puerto Rican-Italian grandparents ended up adopting him.

Because of his childhood, Carrillo said he will bring a unique perspective to the school board about what many Hayward students are facing in their own lives.

"We have a 57% graduation rate in some of our schools. We have the highest truancy rates and the lowest graduation rates of any school district in Alameda County," said Carrillo. "I understand those issues because of my own story as a kid. I have spent my whole life working in the government sector working to address that."

LGBTQ issues roil districts

Their candidacies come as LGBTQ issues have roiled school districts in Alameda County in recent years. Sunol Glen Unified School District board members Ryan Jergensen and Linda Hurley are facing a July 2 recall election following their votes last year to ban flying the Pride flag on school grounds and the decision of Molleen Barnes to retire as the district's superintendent this month.

In honoring Barnes as his Assembly District 24 Woman of the Year in April, bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) noted, "From overseeing recovery efforts after the flooding of Sunol Glen School, to standing up for the LGBTQ+ community, Molly has gone above and beyond in her service to her community."

Alameda County Republican Party official Tom Wong, who is supportive of the Sunol school board members, earlier this year unsuccessfully sought a restraining order against Carrillo. It for a time distracted him from his campaign efforts and "opened deep wounds" about his family's past history, as Carrillo noted in a social media post following the court proceedings.

It was advocating at a Sunol school board meeting last fall when Carrillo decided to run for a Hayward school board seat. The Hayward district has been embroiled in its own controversies over the actions of board member Joe Ramos. As the B.A.R. noted in an editorial last June, following his vote against a Pride Month proclamation, "Ramos has a history of anti-LGBTQ comments."

Jones and Carrillo became friends last year due to the controversies surrounding Ramos. As president of Castro Valley Pride, Carrillo had helped mobilize community members for a rally in support of the Hayward school district's LGBTQ students and staff.

Ramos, one of the three board incumbents whose terms end this year, is seeking reelection. For Carrillo, a main goal with his candidacy is to see Ramos be ousted from the school board.

"I have made it pretty clear, of the three incumbents, Joe is the one to unseat," said Carrillo.

He and Jones have also been supportive of the recall effort in Sunol, but, at the request of the organizers who want it to be locally led, are not playing public roles in it. Jones told the B.A.R. he is hopeful of seeing new leadership for the small school district, which is overseen by a three-person board.

"I think they have a really good shot at it, of being recalled. The community is pretty fed up," noted Jones, who is partners with gay Tracy City Councilmember Dan Tavares Arriola.

The couple has been together two years and are both on their hometown's ballots this year. Arriola is running to be his city's mayor for a second time in the November 5 general election.

It also marks the second time Arriola has stood for election while they have dated — he won reelection to his council seat in 2022. Jones told the B.A.R. he did receive some advice from Arriola about running for public office.

"He told me to make sure you surround yourself with a good team, friends and family to help you get through how stressful this is," said Jones, who in May attended a candidate training provided by the National Education Association.

To learn more about Jones, visit his campaign website. For more information about Carrillo's candidacy, visit his website.

San Jose college trustee kicks off reelection bid

In the South Bay gay San José-Evergreen Community College District Trustee Clay Hale is launching his reelection bid this weekend. Last November, he won election to fill out the remainder of the term vacated by gay San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres following his 2022 election.

Now Hale is seeking a full four-year term on his community college board. A teacher at the East Side Union High School District, Hale had told the B.A.R. last year that he intended to run this November.

His District 7 seat on the seven-person board is centered in downtown San Jose. He will officially launch his bid to retain it this Saturday, June 22.

"Join us as we kick off this exciting campaign together and work towards continuing to improve the quality of education for our students," wrote Hale in an emailed invite.

The campaign kickoff will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. at 1350 N First Street in San Jose. Those interested in attending can RSVP online here.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on LGBTQ endorsements in California's 2026 gubernatorial race.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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