The last couple months have been tough ones in the Fogg household. We’ve enjoyed the changing weather, the wonderful parade of aromas coming from the flowers in the yard, and of course watching our children play sports and wind down the school year. But over all of it, there has been a dark cloud.
In the wake of the public revelations about Darlene Hayes, many bright rays of light have pierced that dark cloud: I’ve been humbled and pleasantly surprised at how many times my wife and I have been stopped in the street, by friends and strangers, to say how sorry they are that we were so viciously attacked just because Ashley wanted to serve our town. I’ve seen many people approach her just to shake her hand or give her a hug and say thank you for what she endured so that the truth could come to light. To the embarrassment of our town, it’s not just in Hopkinton, either. We’ve been contacted by many from outside of town who are aghast that this sort of thing happens, let alone over an unpaid volunteer position. None of these myriad people did anything wrong, but still feel the need to apologize. The support has been from people who identify as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, LBGTQ+, non-LBGTQ+, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, atheist and agnostic. What binds all of them together is that they are decent human beings, who recognize that something went very wrong in our town, and that in addition to hurting our town, it hurt a person. I will say that again, because it seems to be lost on many town officials and members of the HDTC: Ashley Fogg is an actual person.
In contrast to that chorus of support, there is another raft of voices here in town. There have been comments (and more tellingly “No Comment”), statements and responses by town officials and members of the HDTC, and conspicuously absent from every single one of them is an apology. Sure, everyone is “shocked” or “surprised” and “disappointed” or “saddened”. But here is what is shocking and surprising to me: It is only the people who seem to know Darlene best, who have worked with her for years, who have benefited from her leadership at the HDTC, the people whose campaigns have been run and organized by her, that seem to be expressing “shock” and “surprise”. Literally no one else is. Even before the story broke that unmasked her there was a public outcry identifying Darlene as the mastermind of the smear campaign that my wife endured. Yet her closest friends and colleagues had no idea? Disingenuous doesn’t begin to define their comments.
No one needs a full recounting of the last couple months. But let me sum up from a different point of view: Ashley Fogg ran a positive campaign, after being encouraged to run by two sitting School Committee members. Both were HDTC members, although to their credit one of them resigned from the HDTC Board after she received heat when it was revealed publicly that she had supported Ashley’s campaign. At the first of two public events, two of the three candidates for School Committee (one was too busy to show up) were peppered with a disproportionate number of questions about LBGTQ+ issues, many of which weren’t even within the purview of the School Committee. The majority of those questions were submitted by HDTC members. The very next day, a close friend of Darlene Hayes attacked Ashley on her Facebook page as being intolerant and told her she didn’t belong in Hopkinton. What followed is now well-documented: there was a flurry of gossip and rumor about how Ashley wanted to ban books, hated transgender people, had a secret anti-LBGTQ+ agenda, and even said absurd things like that she valued gun-rights over child safety. Many of these slanderous and false narratives were being liked, bumped, and shared by members of the HDTC. None of it is remotely true, and all of it was and continues to be deeply upsetting to Ashley, me, and unfortunately even to our children, who despite our best efforts have not been entirely insulated from this garbage. NO OTHER CANDIDATE IN OUR ELECTIONS WAS SUBJECTED TO THIS. No other candidate was trolled and flamed online with hateful accusations. Why? Because Ashley candidly said she had conversations as a private citizen with teachers and administrators about her children’s curriculum? That makes it okay to loudly and persistently brand her as intolerant and hateful? By their silence it would seem the HDTC thinks so. And if that’s the case, then they are ALL complicit in what Darlene did. They were all thinking it and they were happy to benefit from Darlene saying it.
In you haven’t already, put yourself in Ashley’s shoes. She’s a caring and diligent mother of three beautiful kids and she loves this town. She sees the issues facing our schools and wants to help. Do you watch or attend every school committee meeting? Every town meeting? Because she does. She loves kids. All kids. As a family we have many friends and even family members who identify as LBGTQ+ and we love them. We are followers of Jesus, but that is not a prerequisite for any of our friendships. Many may misunderstand our faith, but for us it’s not about judgment, it’s about love. We don’t ask anyone to believe what we believe. We meet everyone where they are and try to love each person the best we can. In that light, the accusations have been particularly damaging, because at their root, all of them are saying the same thing: Ashley hates. But ask yourself who is more intolerant: Ashley, who has worked hard to love and serve our town as an unpaid volunteer? Or the folks who have cowered behind their screens and assigned hatred to her without evidence? We are not perfect people. Those occupy the same mythical space as unicorns and dragons. But we are also not hateful people. If anyone in town who knows us had anything to say to the contrary I’m sure you would have heard about it by now.
Ashley and I have been contacted by over a dozen people imploring us to seek legal action against Darlene Hayes and/or the HDTC and others. We have a mountain of saved conversations, witness statements, and other documentation that would make legal action possible, and that’s not to mention what we are fairly certain would be uncovered with the right subpoenas and investigations. We are weighing our options. I’m an attorney, but I’ve devoted my practice to defending people, not attacking them. And for the record, I’ve forgiven Darlene Hayes and the HDTC. Life is too short to harbor bitterness. Honestly, we were just hoping that someone… Darlene, or someone that has benefited from and/or participated in Darlene’s reign of terror in our town… would apologize publicly. We were hoping at least one of them would stand up in front of our town and say not that all of us can DO better, but that they should have DONE better. But alas, instead we’ve been “disappointed” and “deeply saddened”.