LBGTQ Durham council member invited back to Catholic school

Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson included in original invitation

DURHAM, N.C. — Rev. Christopher VanHaight, the priest who recently cancelled an invitation to LGBTQ Durham city councilmember Vernetta Alston to speak to Immaculata Catholic School students during Black History Month, has changed his mind and invited her to speak sometime later this school year.

In a meeting on Feb. 14, VanHaight, of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the school’s governing body, asked Alston to come speak another time. According to Alston, who says she wants to speak to students at the school, details are being worked out.

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Alston is a former Immaculata student and an attorney whose work includes efforts to overturn wrongful murder convictions. She was invited to the school along with Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson who is also an LGBTQ individual and African-American. Both were invited as part of a celebration of influential African-American women, honoring Black History Month.

On February 8, VanHaight cancelled classes at the school and both invitations to speak. VanHaight had stated he made the decision following messages from parents claiming concern over having a “pro-gay marriage” public figure speak at the school. According to some parents, the appearance by Alston and Johnson would call into question the school’s support of “Catholic moral teaching.” The Raleigh Diocese issued statements supporting VanHaight.

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Alston, who with wife Courtney has a daughter, issued a public statement supporting the Church’s right to rescind the invitation. In it she expressed that she believed strongly in the “freedom to believe and worship how one chooses, even if a belief conflicts with something fundamental to my own life.”

But in the statement, Alston expressed her right to “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.”

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