NC Catholic School Cancels Classes Over Lesbian Speaker

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by Anita Carey  •  •  February 8, 2019   

Division in the Church plays out at elementary school

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DURHAM, N.C. ( - After school officials heard complaints and plans for multiple protests about a lesbian speaker, classes were canceled over fears for the students' safety.

As part of their African-American Heritage program celebrating Black History Month, school officials at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, North Carolina planned on allowing lesbian Durham City Councilwoman Vernetta Alston to speak on Feb. 8. 

Church Militant was contacted by a number of sources that were concerned over Alston's gay so-called marriage and her support of gay and transgender-affirming issues being pushed to the elementary students. The Herald-Sun reported, "She and wife Courtney Alston are parents to a 9-month-old girl."

In response to Church Militant's query, Fr. Chris VanHaight, the pastor of Immaculata Catholic School and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, sent the letter he wrote to parents, saying, "Regrettably, I understand from a variety of reports that a number of groups are planning demonstrations at our school that day to register their respective opinions regarding Vernetta Alston."

"As pastor, I cannot place our Immaculata students in this contentious environment," he said. 

Alston campaigned as a lesbian and was elected to the Durham City Council in 2017. She is also a former student of Immaculata. In her response to the school canceling the event, Alston wrote, "The people at Immaculata built the scaffolding for my character and my values."

Immaculate Conception Church, the parish of Immaculata Catholic School, is on New Ways Ministry's list of "LGBT-friendly parishes and faith communities." 

Several of Alston's tweets are messages supportive of transgender ideology. In a tweet from October, under #reformdurham, she advocated for having a conversation about evaluating "the need [for] binary gender ID options on City forms."

Her campaign website is currently being updated, but Ballotopedia listed her main issues as the immigrant community, police discrimination, economic development, affordable housing and ending discrimination for the LGBTQ community. 

Alston was a 2017 Victory Empowerment Fellow from the LGBT Victory Institute whose mission is "to increase the number of LGBTQ people in public office."  

The LGBT Victory Institute offers campaign training for LGBT candidates to build "a diverse pipeline of future LGBT leaders to advance equality."  

It is an offshoot of the Victory Fund, an organization that "provide[s] campaign, communication and fundraising support for LGBTQ candidates so they win and become influential voices for equality."

Alston's response was to paint the issue as a racial one, not that she is living a life opposed to the Catholic Church's teachings.
There was no conversation between Church officials and the heritage committee.
"I am deeply disappointed that my colleagues and I were invited to the school's Black History Month celebration and the event was altogether canceled," she stated. 
"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," she continued, adding:

I can freely say that the Church, by depriving the students at Immaculata of the chance to honor Black history, and in doing so, condeming 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 cancelled and that inclusion is not valued by some who are charged with shaping their character. I reject that message. 

Danielle Sutton, the chair of the school's African-American Heritage Committee, told The News & Observer that they reached out to Alston because she is an influential African-American woman. 

"This was not a school decision," she said. "There was no conversation between church officials and the Heritage committee." 

Sutton said the committee members are hoping to meet with Church officials saying, "We want the students to have positive images of African-American women in the same way they have images of other women."

Father VanHaight apologized for the inconvenience the school closing may have on families and asked for prayers. 

"I also ask you to join with me in praying for faithfulness, strength and healing within and outside of our parish community and city," Fr. VanHaight said. 

Church Militant reached out to Alston, Immaculata Principal Dana Corcoran and the diocese of Raleigh but has not heard back.

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