North Carolina Catholic School Cancels Black History Event After Protest Threats over Gay Speaker, a Respected Former Student

A North Carolina Catholic school has been criticised after canceling a Black History Month event amid backlash over the sexual orientation of a respected former student.

Vernetta Alston, an openly-gay councilwoman elected in 2017, had been invited to Immaculata Catholic School in Durham to speak on the topic of influential African American women.

But all classes at the religious institution were canceled today after church officials said concerns had been raised about her inclusion in the event by several—still unnamed—groups.

Pastor Christopher VanHaight said in a letter to parents that he had heard from a "variety of sources" a "number of groups" were planning to demonstrate outside the school. "I cannot place our Immaculata students into this contentious environment," he wrote.

On the school's website a notice confirmed the entire campus was closed today.

Alston's attendance was organized by the school's African American Heritage Committee, which today blasted the decision from officials to scrub the morning event.

"Questions were raised about her sexual orientation and her public stance in support of gay marriage as contrary to Catholic doctrine," a statement posted to Facebook read.

"In response to these concerns, Church authorities rescinded Ms. Alston's invitation to speak. Our committee was stunned, frustrated and extremely disappointed."

It added: "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. 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."

It was posted to social media by Kaaren Haldeman, who said she has been a member of the school's African American Heritage Committee since its founding back in 2011.

The Herald Sun reported the politician was scheduled to speak during a morning prayer, lasting up to 40 minutes. Alston released her own letter addressing the school situation yesterday, saying that she was "deeply disappointed" in the rejection of her attendance.

The councilwoman wrote: "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.

"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, 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 canceled and that inclusion is not valued by some who are charged with shaping their character. I reject that message." The letter was posted to Facebook.

The Associated Press, citing politician Jillian Johnson who was also invited to speak at the school, reported the entire Black History event was scrubbed. The African American Heritage Committee said it will "continue the conversation" with church leaders.

"Our fight is to end bigotry of any kind, raise our children in the light of love and walk the path of kindness, compassion and justice for all," Haldeman wrote on a social media page earlier today.