North Carolina

Parents upset Durham Catholic school closed Friday, canceled gay speaker

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) - Parents of Immaculata Catholic School are upset that officials stopped a gay Durham council member from speaking to students.

Vernetta Alston was uninvited to speak to students and classes were canceled Friday after threats to protest.

The decision is personal for Alston, who attended the school as a little girl.   

“She was perfect," said Kaaren Haldeman.

She is on the committee that chose Alston to speak during a Black History Month event Friday.  

“I'm disappointed that people who felt the need to say something did not ever approach the committee (and) that we were never consulted about their decision,” said Haldeman. 

Protesters did not show up.  

Mayor Steve Schewel said what happened is a shame.  

“It's really important in Durham that we don't discriminate against anybody," said Schewel. "To discriminate against someone because they are a member of the LGBTQ community, we can't have that.” 

He said he talked to Alston on Friday.  

“She is so grounded and so humane and a very loving person, and she's just dealing with this with both understanding and also with firmness,” he said.  

Alston declined an on-camera interview.  

In a letter responding to the controversy, she wrote, in part: “By depriving the students at Immaculata the chance to honor black history, and in doing so, condemning the lives and rights of the LGBTQ community, is sending a sad, regressive, life-altering message to our children.”  

Haldeman is not sure whether school leaders or the Catholic diocese made the final decision. She working find out and move forward.  

“This is a very hurtful experience for all of us involved,” she said.  

Haldeman said the committee is considering inviting Alston back to speak. 

"Our goal is to continue conversations with both the diocese and church officials with Immaculate Conception," Haldeman said. "We want her back. We want her to be here because it's important that our kids hear her voice. It's important that they encounter her. It's important that she feels very loved. It's important that we make Immaculata the home that we claim it is for all of our students and families." 

Haldeman said officials recently put a new policy in place that political leaders are no longer allowed to speak at Immaculata. She's concerned about what that could mean for Alston and the opportunity to speak to students in the future. 


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