Catholic School Cancels Black History Month Program Over Gay Speaker

Rachel Kiley

A Catholic school in North Carolina invited a black lesbian city councilwoman to give a speech, but subsequently canceled after fears of protests arose.

Vernetta Alston is an alumna of Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, and had been asked by the school to speak at an event for Black History Month. School officials later claimed a number of groups were planning to protest the event, so they not only canceled her speech, but canceled the entire day of school.

“As pastor I cannot place our Immaculata students into this contentious environment,” Father Christopher VanHaight wrote in a letter to parents.

It is unclear which groups were intending to protest.

Alston was not the only local politician scheduled to speak at the school for Black History Month, but Councilwoman Jillian Johnson, who was also invited, was told the entire program had been fully canceled.

On Twitter, Alston posted a letter first thanking those at the school who asked her to be involved in the event, and ultimately expressing her disappointment in the school’s decision to bow to the pressure of potential protesters.

“Immaculata is a religious institution and I believe strongly in the freedom to believe and worship how one chooses, even if a belief conflicts with something fundamental to my own life. That said, adherence to that basic principle means that I can freely say that the Church, by depriving students at Immaculate of the change to honor Black history, and in doing so, condemning the lives and rights of the LGBTQ community, is sending a sad, regressive, and life-altering message to our children — that the voices and experiences within the Black community can be cancelled and that inclusion is not valued by some who are charged with shaping their character.”

The African American Heritage Committee at the school also condemned Immaculata’s choice to cancel the event. Their response was posted to Twitter and stressed that “a few expressed concerns” about Alson’s “sexual orientation and her public stance in support of gay marriage as contrary to Catholic doctrine.”

Their response seems to suggest that the cancelation of the event was less about fear of subjecting students to protests and more about caving to pressure to reject an LGBTQ community leader.

“The public story has centered on the cancellation of all school classes and activities on Friday in light of protest threats made by outside religious extremists,” the group’s statement read. “While the safety of our students is paramount, that focus is misplaced.

“The real issue here is a decision to cancel the speaking engagement of an accomplished, well-respected, local Black female leader who also happens to be an alumna of our school — a product of Catholic education — and how that decision does not reconcile with our community values.”

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