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A Catholic School Canceled Classes Over Protests Of A Black Lesbian Speaker's Event

The school said the event, which was for Black History Month, would likely be protested by "a number of groups."

Posted on February 8, 2019, at 12:45 p.m. ET

Twitter / Via Twitter: @vernettalstonnc

Councilwoman Vernetta Alston

A Catholic school canceled classes Friday after a black lesbian city councilwoman's event faced possible protests, officials said.

Administrators at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, North Carolina, heard “a number of groups” planned to demonstrate after they invited Councilwoman Vernetta Alston to speak, the Herald Sun reported.

Alston, who is an alumna of the school, had been scheduled to speak at a Black History Month event.

“Regrettably, I understand from a variety of sources that a number of groups are planning demonstrations at our school that day to register their respective opinions regarding Vernetta Alston," a letter from Father Christopher VanHaight to parents reportedly said. "As pastor I cannot place our Immaculata students into this contentious environment."

According to the school's website, campus was closed Friday and all events were canceled. The school did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Immaculata Catholic School

In a letter she tweeted, Alston said Immaculata has always "felt like home," and that the school "built the scaffolding for my character and values."

Still, she said she was "deeply disappointed that my colleagues and I were uninvited to the school's Black History Month celebration and that the event was altogether canceled."

"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," Alston wrote. "That said, adherence to that basic principle means that I can freely say that 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 LGTBQ 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 school's African American Heritage Committee released a statement championing Alston as "the Immaculata Way of Life" and saying they were "stunned, frustrated, and extremely disappointed" she was disinvited.

"Sadly, a few expressed concerns about Ms. Alston's presence at our school," the committee said. "Questions were raised about her sexual orientation and her public stance in support of gay marriage as contrary to Catholic doctrine. In response to these concerns, church authorities rescinded Ms. Alston's invitation to speak."

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson said they "value our LGBTQ community immensely here in Durham" and hopes the school will "reconsider their harmful decision."

"I’m so fortunate to have Vernetta Alston as a colleague and friend, and I’m very disappointed in the decision by ICS to cancel Black History Month activities," Johnson said. "It sends a terrible message to the students at the school and to the community at large, and is not in line with our city’s values."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.