Ro Khanna Is Rejecting a LGBTQ+ ‘Purity Test’ by Endorsing Fremont City Council Candidate Yang Shao
By Glen Shaffer
Ro Khanna, the freshman congressmember from California’s 17th district, recently created a national outrage on the left when he endorsed Rep. Joe Crowley (NY-14) over fellow Justice Democrat candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. For almost a week he ignored the cries of his progressive twitter followers. Eventually his endorsement caught the eye of some of the very progressive pundits that have supported and promoted him over the last year and a half. With pressure mounting, Khanna relented by declaring a “dual-endorsement.”
Khanna spent the next few days doing interviews to explain his reasoning and apologizing on twitter to national figures like Susan Sarandon. He also claimed that dual-endorsements were “common in California,” despite the fact that the last Californian to dual-endorse, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was widely mocked and ridiculed last year for his dual-endorsement for the state Democratic Party chair.
More significant to local voters was Khanna’s endorsement of Fremont Unified School District board president Yang Shao, who is running for the Fremont City Council this fall. Teachers recently complained about overtly hostile treatment by Shao, even organizing a protest to be held at his campaign kickoff. But after Shao’s recent transphobic comments during a heated sex education debate, some in the LGBTQ+ community wondered why an ally would support somebody with an anti-LGBTQ+ history. Shao had previously voiced support for California’s Proposition 8, the now overturned constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Constituents have begun to question Khanna about the endorsement on social media and at town hall events. At Khanna’s June 2 Congressional Town Hall, a teacher brought up Shao and his troubling stances. Khanna rightfully explained it was not an issue related to his congressional duties and therefore not proper for him to directly comment on at a tax-payer funded event. But then, in what could be a violation of the very house ethics rule he just cited, Khanna offered the school board president and candidate Shao time to rebut the constituent.
During an Empathy Alliance roundtable on July 1 frustrated LGBTQ+ community members questioned Khanna. The discussion became heated when Stefan Wooding, a 22-year-old Fremont resident, confronted Khanna. Stefan and others wanted to know how they could trust Khanna as an ally when “as an elected official you lend your political weight to someone whose actions are hostile to us?” Not addressing the Shao endorsement he attempted to turn the conversation to his own voting record, “I have the most progressive voting record, if having the most progressive record isn’t enough for you…” But Stefan continued to pressure Khanna to address the Shao endorsement when, according to another attendee, Khanna lost his composure, blurting out, “Well, if you’re going to use ideological purity tests…” before stopping himself mid-sentence.
Khanna tried to soothe the crowd by claiming to have privately “questioned [Shao] thoroughly” and trusted his views had changed. Neither Stefan nor other attendees had as much confidence since Shao made the transphobic comments within the last three months.
Stefan told me they were very frustrated when Khanna insisted “politics requires working across the aisle.” As Stefan pointed out, Khanna is not likely “to be working with Shao” since Shao is running for City Council and “endorsements are voluntary.”
When Khanna tried to point to Shao’s apology after his recent derogatory comments during a school board meeting, Stefan and others made it clear they were not ready to trust nor accept Shao’s “non-apology.”
“Many thanks to Congressman Ro Khanna for bringing to my attention today that some felt hurt by my comments on the curriculum during the board deliberation. I am sorry they felt that way,” Shao said in a Facebook posting on May 3. “As I said in the beginning and at the end of the board meeting yesterday/early this morning, let’s put aside our differences, focus on our common ground.”
It does not appear Khanna was convinced to retract his endorsement of Shao. Their relationship goes back at least a few years, Shao endorsed Khanna during the previous election. They appeared together on Chinese-language TV. Both were endorsed by the extremist group, Silicon Valley Chinese Association. SVCA once used holocaust imagery and language to stokes fears over East Bay Assemblymember, Rob Bonta’s AHEAD Act (AB-1726). The AHEAD Act would have helped institutions better understand and serve the health and educational needs of California’s large and diverse Asian-American community by disaggregating data already collected. SVCA endorsed Khanna after he came out against the AHEAD act and SCA5 (affirmative action).
This is not the first time Khanna was reluctant to relinquish the support of somebody anti-LGBTQ+. When one-term Republican congressmember and sexual harasser Ernie Konnyu went on a homophobic tirade against the local Chamber of Commerce over their endorsement of the openly-gay Evan Low for state assembly, it took over a week of pressure before Khanna even addressed the issue. Even after Khanna denounced the tirade many were left questioning why he still refused to remove Konnyu from his list of endorsees.
Adding to the history of Khanna’s tolerance for the intolerant, Khanna invited pastors Dick Bernal of Jubilee Christian Center and Jack Trieber of North Valley Baptist Church to his first congressional prayer breakfast. Bernal had put all weddings on hold after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, fearing he would be forced to perform same-sex weddings. Both churches have a long record of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. And just a few weeks ago Khanna sponsored Jack Trieber of North Valley Baptist to perform the daily prayer to open congress.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glen Shaffer is a San Jose resident and long-time citizen blogger on Daily Kos. He may be better known by on the Twittersphere as @GlenThePlumber. As his Twitter handle suggests, he is a plumber by day and progressive activist by night.