A Month After Cancellation, Lesbian City Leader Speak to Catholic Students

After being invited, disinvited, and reinvited, Durham City Council Member Vernetta Alston was finally able to address students at Immaculata Catholic School early in March.

She had been invited to speak to students at the North Carolina school as part of a Black History Month program in February, but her event was cancelled after Immaculata’s pastor, Fr. Chris VanHaight, OFM, expressed concern that as a lesbian and “pro-gay marriage politician,” her beliefs were not consistent with Church teachings.

Vernetta Alston

Alston, an Immaculata graduate and attorney known for her work exonerating an innocent man on death row, experienced an outpouring of community support in the wake of the school’s cancellation.

VanHaight eventually apologized for his handling of the situation and invited Alston back to speak with students.

Even before being reinvited, Alston had been clear that she would still happily speak with students if she were given the chance.

WRAL reports that when that chance finally came a month later, Alston spoke not of her own courage, but of the courage of those who had supported her and spoken out in February.

“Thank you for being an example to everyone in Durham and for me personally,” said Alston, “and thank you for showing me how to fight for our kids.”

The crowd greeted her with a standing ovation, and many waited afterwards to shake her hand. Students compared the lines to waiting for a ride at Disney World.

“I felt very excited to finally deliver that kind of message, and I hope people received it well,” Alston told WRAL. “It’s just so special to see folks be committed to what they value and say it out loud and to support one another.”

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented:  “This story shows that even when church leaders make a mistake that can harm LGBTQ people, they have it in their ability to apologize and make amends.  Both Fr. VanHaight and Ms. Alston are to be commended for resolving this issue gracefully, providing an important lesson for the school children about how to deal with conflict and mistakes.”

Jonathan Nisly, New Ways Ministry, April 3, 2019

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