Vernetta Alston thegrio.com
Durham, NC City Councilwoman Vernetta Alston, was asked to speak at Immaculata Catholic School's Black History Month event, until the school canceled because of outside protestors. (Photo courtesy of Durham City Council.)

A Catholic school in North Carolina is facing backlash after inviting a Black lesbian alumna to speak at a Black History Month event.

According to The Herald-Sun, Friday, Immaculata Catholic School canceled classes after school officials were made aware that “a number of groups” were planning to protest a talk given by Durham Councilwoman Vernetta Alston.

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Father Christopher VanHaight, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic church, told parents in a letter that in the interest of student safety both classes and the scheduled event were canceled. However, Councilwoman Alston says the school’s move sends the wrong message about how easily Black voices can be silenced.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Alston, who once attended Immaculata, admitted that she is “deeply disappointed that my colleagues and I were uninvited to the school’s Black History month celebration and that the event was altogether cancelled.”

“The Church, by depriving the students at Immaculata of the chance to honor Black history, and in doing so, condemning the lives and rights of the LGBTQ community,” Alston said, “is sending a sad, regressive, and life-altering message to our children — that the voices and experiences of those within the Black community can be cancelled, and that inclusion is not valued by some who are charged with shaping their character. I reject that message.”

In 2017, Councilwoman Vernetta Alston was one of six openly LGBTQ candidates elected to office in North Carolina. Immaculata’s African American Heritage Committee, which organized the school’s Black History Month program, agrees that canceling the whole event over a few people’s opinions was not the right move.

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“The public story has centered on the cancelation of all school classes and activities on Friday in light of protest threats made by outside religious extremists,” they explained in a statement. “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.”

 Danielle Sutton, a member of the school’s African-American Heritage Committee, made clear that Immaculata is a welcoming and worthwhile school and the hope is to have a conversation with church officials to eventually re-invite the Councilwoman.

The theme of Friday’s program was to honor influential African-American women.