Bestselling romance author Nicholas Sparks is apologizing after emails were published showing him taking a stance against an LGBTI club at his North Carolina Christian school.
Currently, the Epiphany School of Global Studies in New Bern, is facing a legal battle from former headmaster Saul Benjamin. Legal officials published the emails as part of discovery in the ongoing trial.
Sparks helped co-found the prep school, which is focused on ‘learning about the world’ and ‘anchored in the Judeo-Christian commandment to Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself’.
Benjamin joined the school as headmaster in 2013. One year later, he filed a wrongful termination suit.
According to Benjamin’s complaint, tensions rose immediately upon his hiring. He noticed the school’s lack of diversity and reportedly heard stories of homophobic bullying.
When a rumor began that Benjamin started a school LGBTI club, the Board of Trustrees demanded it be banned. Benjamin also alleged in his complaint that two bisexual teachers were threatened with termination over discussing the group.
In November, two students told Benjamin they planned to take off their clothes during chapel, announcing their identities via body paint.
Benjamin advised the female students not to stage their protest.
Strict emails from Nicholas Sparks
Between 13-18 November 2013, Sparks penned multiple emails to Benjamin. In the emails, he took a stance against the rumored club and called out Benjamin’s perceived ‘agenda’. The Daily Beast published the emails last week.
In the 13 November email, Sparks wrote: ‘You chose to rock this boat early and hard… with what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.’
He also listed the various ways Benjamin showed having an agenda. This included pointing out the school’s lack of diversity and calling for changes to the non-discrimination policy. Sparks also noted Benjamin’s support for the supposed LGBTI club and advocating taking students to Washington DC for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.
‘Regarding diversity,’ Sparks continued in the lengthy email, ‘I’ve now told you half a dozen times that our lack of diversity has NOTHING to do with the school, or anyone at the school. It’s because of what we as a school, has or hasn’t done.
‘It has nothing to do with racism, or vestiges of Jim Crow. It comes down to 1) Money and 2) Culture.’
In his complaint, Benjamin alleged Sparks said the school lacked black students because they are ‘too poor and can’t do the academic work’.
‘The school does NOT discriminate’
Five days later, Sparks sent another email to Benjamin. He began it by stating: ‘There will be no club in the future.’
The remainder of the email reads as a sharp rebuke of Benjamin’s focus on diversity.
‘About the non-discrimination policy you keep bringing up,’ Sparks wrote. ‘Please remember sexual orientation was NOT in there originally, and that the only reason it was added was that YOU insisted it specifically be added.
‘Frankly, no one but you wanted it in there, preferring to simply phrase it as “we don’t discriminate against… and other legally protected categories.”‘
Sparks then wrote he never heard a headmaster bring up the non-discrimination policy before Benjamin.
‘The reason I never heard it was because the school does NOT, nor has it EVER, discriminated. … Not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination.’
Near the end of the email, Sparks stated they have spent ‘way, way too much time’ discussing diversity.
‘We want you to be the guy you said you’d be when we first offered you the job,’ he concluded.
Sparks, the bestselling author of 20 romance novels, including The Notebook and Nights in Rodanthe, responded on Monday (17 June).
He first called The Daily Beast’s reporting ‘false’ and provided a lengthy statement in response.
‘As someone who has spent the better part of my life as a writer who understands the power of words, I regret and apologize that mine have potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community ,including my friends and colleagues in that community,’ he began the statement.
He also described himself as an ‘unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights and would never want to discourage any young person or adult from embracing who they are’.
In the statement, Sparks addresses two specific parts of the published emails.
‘I was responding heatedly to how the headmaster had gone about initiating this club,’ he wrote of his words about the LGBTI club. ‘Like most schools, Epiphany has procedures and policies for establishing any student club.’
Elswhere in the 18 November email, Sparks told Benjamin a previous headmaster had dealt with LGBTI students ‘quietly and wonderfully’.
‘I meant that he supported them in a straightforward, unambiguous way – NOT that he in any way encouraged students to be silent about their gender identity or sexual orientation,’ he clarified in Monday’s statement.
Benjamin’s suit is going to trial this fall, although the court already dismissed the matter of the school’s diversity and discrimination policies.