A group of Derryfield School alums, lead by activists in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., is pushing the prep school to kick a local mom off the Board of Trustees because of her advocacy on behalf of her religious beliefs.
Shannon McGinley is well known in New Hampshire political circles as executive director of Cornerstone, a traditional Christian organization. She’s also a mother of five who has had children at Derryfield since 2009. McGinley has served on the board for eight years and is currently its secretary.
While McGinley’s no stranger to media coverage, even she was taken aback to learn she was the lead topic on comedian/activist Sarah Silverman’s podcast last week. Silverman, a Bedford, N.H. native and Derryfield alum, mistakenly declared McGinley the “executive director of a gay conversion center in New Hampshire.”
Silverman went on to argue that McGinley should be kicked off the board for the views she holds (“Are we deciding bigotry is an opinion?”), while reminiscing about her time at the school.
“When I was there a lot of parents were Republicans” Silverman recalled with regret. “It’s New Hampshire. It’s the conservative Vermont.”
Silverman said she had been informed about McGinley by Dann Freeman, one of the organizers of a group calling itself the Derryfield Inclusion Alliance (DIA). They sent a letter to Derryfield demanding McGinley be removed from the board for her views on LGBT issues.
“We, the undersigned members of the Derryfield community, are alarmed that a professional opponent of LGBTQ+ rights, denier of LGBTQ+ identity, and supporter of abusive and discredited “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ+ people would hold a position in the school’s top leadership,” the letter reads. “We are concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ students, whose care and education are controlled in part by such a person, and by others in Derryfield’s leadership who find it acceptable for someone with such outspoken homophobic and transphobic views to serve as a trustee and board officer.”
In fact, as a board member, McGinley has exercised “no control” over education at Derryfield. Nor has the DIA offered any evidence that she has.
“I was co-chair of the capital campaign that raised $6.5 million in five years,” McGinley said of her service on the board. “I’ve served eight years on the board without any issues, and with a steady increase in enrollment. My personal views have never come up in my role as a board member.”
Some McGinley supporters who were unwilling to go on the record believe partisan politics is behind this effort. The group’s Facebook page is private and blocked from public view. However, one of the administrators is NH Democratic Party activist Alan Raff, currently head of the Manchester chapter of the Young Democrats. Another administrator, Doug Lindner of Washington, D.C., works for a progressive activism group and is a former Pete Buttigieg staffer.
And Freeman, who like Silverman lives in Los Angeles, is also an active Democrat, donating $1,000 to his party’s successful efforts to flip Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats earlier this year. Asked if there were any examples of McGinley advocating or influencing policy at Derryfield, or displaying any inappropriate behavior of any kind, Freeman declined to comment.
As for the DIA’s allegation that she supports “conversion therapy,” McGinley says that’s also untrue.
“I would adamantly oppose forcing unwanted therapy of any kind on a minor,” McGinley said in a letter to the Derryfield Board of Trustees. “This is not something that I, nor any organization I am a part of, has ever promoted.”
Without any complaints during her eight-year tenure or allegations of interference with school policies toward LGBT students, the entire question is whether a person who advocates for traditional views on marriage, sex and gender should be allowed to serve on the board where her children attend school, separate from her actual behavior as a board member.
For the Diversity Inclusion Alliance, the answer is clearly “no.”
Rather than answer questions on the record, Freeman sent NHJournal a joint statement from the DIA and Board of Trustees Chair Trustee Brad Benson:
“The Derryfield School and The Derryfield Inclusion Alliance have remained in close communication on this matter and continue to be optimistic about reaching a mutually agreeable resolution within the Derryfield community. Both parties are disappointed in those seeking to misrepresent this issue as ammunition in a broader, unrelated culture war.
“The School and Alliance appreciate each other’s respectful engagement within the community and that Derryfield is a place that celebrates diversity. Both parties recognize that deliberately public actions on the part of a trustee, such as lobbying for policies inconsistent with the school’s mission and policies, can raise valid concerns for members of the community to discuss. The Derryfield School and the Derryfield Inclusion Alliance look forward to reaching an equitable resolution.”
In other words, critics say, Chairman Benson and the DIA only object to McGinley’s religious views because she “deliberately” expresses them in public and “lobbies” on behalf of her beliefs.
McGinley was reluctant to speak to NHJournal, but she expressed her frustration with this double-standard for “diversity.”
“Do we believe in diversity or not? It’s myopic to think that you’re globally-minded when, whether they’re Muslim or Christian or Orthodox Jews, millions of people have opinions you think make them unfit for polite society. Are they all disqualified from serving on any boards?
“Are we only ‘multicultural and open-minded’ if you stay silent?”