A Catholic high school in North Carolina disinvited an openly lesbian politician and canceled classes to avoid conflict with potential protestors.
Durham City Councilwoman Vernetta Alston was scheduled to speak at a Black History Month assembly at Immaculata Catholic School, but the school changed its mind after parents began to complain, reports WRAL. Classes were canceled due to planned protests.
Alston’s sexuality and stance on same-sex marriage were offensive to the more conservative members of the community.
An Immaculata graduate herself, she believes the children were robbed of a great opportunity.
"I could see myself in those kids," she said. "For them to lose out on this opportunity and, in the process, receive this message is really disheartening."
“We were all scheduled to speak at different times this month,” City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson said according to News & Observer. “They told me that they’ve canceled the whole Black History Month program.”
The school’s African-American Heritage Committee also released a statement expressing its disappointment.
"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," the statement read.
Pastor Chris VanHaight of Immaculate Conception Church believes the cancellation was the right call.
"The theme for that Friday morning prayer was going to be a strong Black woman. Vernetta Alston is that," VanHaight told WRAL. "But she’s also a politician – and a pro-gay-marriage politician – and that was problematic."
VanHaight believes in the right to protest but says canceling classes was a matter of safety, not opposing views.
"We had credible reports that came, actually, from parents that there were going to be two opposing groups of protestors," VanHaight said. "While we of course embrace free speech, I wasn’t going to have our kids put in that type of situation. There were no threats to the school, but after Charlottesville, I wasn’t going to take that chance."
Protestors never showed up, according to WNCT.
The priest said he would be more involved in the speaker selection for school programming, and politicians won’t be allowed in for a while.
Despite his views on the LGBTQ community, VanHaight admits the situation was mismanaged because Alston had to find out about the reversal from a third party.
"Mistakes were made. This was not handled well," he said. "I regret that, even though I had no intention to disrespect Ms. Alston, that’s exactly what happened."
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