Durham, N.C. – After almost a month of waiting, a cheerfully cheerful councilor from Durham City Council finally made her speech as part of Black History Month Tuesday night at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
Heads of the Immaculata Catholic school associated with the original church canceled Vernetta Alston's speech, who is married to a woman, citing credible threats of protests both for and against Alston because of her stance on gay marriage. In addition, school officials canceled classes during the day, citing student safety concerns.
Father Christopher VanHaight stated that the cancellation of the invitation was "a difficult decision to make", but that it was necessary to clarify the Catholic teachings, which contrast homosexuality and the same-sex marriage.
When Alston finally took up the stadium for a standing ovation on Tuesday night, the police were present as a precaution, but no demonstration or problem occurred.
"Thank you for being an example to everyone in Durham and for me personally, and thank you for showing me how to fight for our kids," Alston told the crowd.
Students lined up to meet Alston after his speech, some comparing the expectation of meeting her with the long queues typical of Walt Disney World.
Alston said she was overwhelmed by the support.
"I felt very excited to finally deliver this kind of message and I hope people have received it," she said. "It's so special to see people commit to what they value, say it out loud and help each other."
Alston said she never imagined refusing the invitation to return to school to speak and was grateful for the support of the community.
VanHaight apologizes for how the situation regarding Alston's initial speech was handled. Officials of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh declined repeated requests for interview.