San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan is facing swift backlash after agreeing to speak with a local anti-LGBTQ+ parent group, despite claiming ignorance of the organization’s controversial roots.
An event flier featuring Doan’s headshot circulated online by Informed Parents of Silicon Valley—an organization openly against teaching critical race theory and gender expansive education in schools—triggered shockwaves through Silicon Valley on Thursday. Elected officials took to social media to denounce Doan, with some even considering calling for his resignation. Doan said he agreed to do a meet-and-greet with parents, but not to be a speaker. He said he wouldn’t have agreed to meet at all had he known more about the organization.
“This incident has served as a wakeup call for my office to be more diligent in researching who we meet with and we will do better,” Doan said early Friday morning on social media. “I apologize to the residents of San Jose for the negative emotions this has stirred, especially to those in our LGBTQ+ community, such as my family members, who still deal with hate from outsiders based solely on who they choose to love.”
The flier said guest speakers Doan and Marc Cooper, a Franklin McKinley High School board member would discuss test scores, LGBTQ+ books available in the library and how to opt out of “inappropriate curriculum.” Cooper, a conservative, ran an election last year that focused on parental rights “to opt-out their child from curriculum that does not focus on reading, math, language and science,” according to his campaign material.
“Our schools have fallen prey to a dangerous agenda pushed by politically driven educators seeking to indoctrinate our children at the expense of your family’s values and beliefs,” the flier promoting Doan as a speaker reads.
But Doan said he did not agree to be a guest speaker and was not aware of the material being distributed ahead of time. He quickly condemned the flier and said he did not authorize the use of his picture. Doan’s office sent a cease and desist letter late last night to the year-old organization.
The letter said Doan demanded “confirmation that your organization informed him that this was only a meet and greet with D7 parents to discuss quality of life municipal issues in the District,” and that he would not attend the meeting.
The parent group apologized in a public response addressed to Doan less than an hour after the cease and desist letter was sent. The letter corroborated what Doan’s office claimed.
Doan said he is a firm supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and wants to focus his time in office on homeless and transgender youth who are often marginalized further within the community.
But some critics say it’s hard to believe Doan had no idea what the conservative organization is all about, despite the website displaying clear messaging around “family values.”
Jefferey Buchanan, policy director at Working Partnerships USA, said Doan’s explanation is feigned ignorance.
“This is nonsense,” Buchanan said. “(If you) looked at anything about this group, the bigotry smacks you right in the face. He and (Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Fleming) knew full well who these folks are.”
Did he really not know?
Doan has been associated with other conservative organizations in Silicon Valley and is one of the more conservative voices on council. The Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women, which supports Informed Parents of Silicon Valley, endorsed Doan last year.
Informed Parents of Silicon Valley has made headlines recently after the Santa Clara Unified School District announced it is considering legal action against the group because of its aggressive leafleting at schools.
Doan met with former Councilmember Larry Pegram—an ultraconservative Republican who founded the group—on Aug. 25 for 30 minutes, according to his public calendar. The description of the meeting said it was an “intro to organization and see how we may work together to benefit the residents of District 7.”
Pegram was the only councilmember to downvote San Jose’s gay rights law in 1979. He is also a co-founder of the Values Advocacy Council, a group he described as “a voice for Judeo-Christian values in policy matters in Silicon Valley.”
Fleming, Doan’s deputy chief of staff, said there was no mention of LGBTQ+ during the meeting. Instead, the duo met to focus on getting to know each other instead of talking about the organization, Fleming said.
“They ended up spending probably 20 minutes of the time just kind of getting to know (each other) and talking about the past and politics and things of that nature,” Fleming told San José Spotlight. “There was a little bit of discussion about how they have an organization that wants to try to reshape politics here in Silicon Valley. They were focusing on getting people in at the lowest level possible, which was the school board system.”
Conservative groups like Informed Parents of Silicon Valley are making a concerted effort to elect like-minded candidates to school boards across the country. The Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women held an Aug. 26 event to recruit school board candidates and fundraise. And last year, there were at least 13 local school board members and candidates who aligned with conservative values. The women’s association endorsed all of them—the highest number backed by the group since it started in 1964.
The California Republican Party launched its “Parent Revolt” program last year as well—providing strategies and step-by-step guidance for conservative school board candidates. The race for superintendent of public instruction—the state’s top elected education official—has been rife with discussions on issues such as book bans, sex education and COVID-19 measures, like masking.
An LGBTQ+ ally
Gabrielle Antolovich, board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, said they believe Doan is still an ally of the LGBTQ+ community and think he was bamboozled.
Antolovich said they and Doan are working together to ensure groups like Informed Parents of Silicon Valley do not repeat this with another councilmember. They also want to combat the growing efforts to get anti-LGBTQ+ candidates elected to school boards, they said.
“(Doan) showed up at SV Pride (last week) with rainbow suspenders. A hater would never do that,” Antolovich said. “Was it naivety? Was it not doing his due diligence? Who knows. But it’s what he’s doing now that is important because (this is what) is going to stick.”