By Associated Press and Tim Fitzsimons

DURHAM, N.C. — A Catholic school in North Carolina invited a black lesbian alumna to speak at a Black History Month event, but canceled the event and classes due to threats of protest.

The Herald-Sun reports Immaculata Catholic School canceled classes Friday after officials learned "a number of groups" planned to protest the talk by Durham councilwoman Vernetta Alston. Alston said Thursday that the school's move sends the message that black voices can be canceled.

Father Christopher VanHaight told parents the cancellation prioritized student safety. He hasn't specified what upset the groups. Alston is one of six openly LGBTQ candidates elected to office in North Carolina in 2017. Councilwoman Jillian Johnson, who was also scheduled to speak at the school, says she was told the Black History Month program is now canceled.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Alston, who is an alumna of Immaculata, said she is "deeply disappointed that my colleagues and I were uninvited to the school's Black History month celebration and that the event was altogether cancelled."

"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 LGBTQ community," Alston said, "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.”

Immaculata's African American Heritage Committee, which organized the school's Black History Month event, issued a a statement criticizing the decision to cancel the event.

“The public story has centered on the cancelation of all school classes and activities on Friday in light of protest threats made by outside religious extremists," the statement read. "While the safety of our students is paramount, that focus is misplaced. The real issue here is a decision to cancel the speaking engagement of an accomplished, well-respected, local black female leader.”

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