Romance novelist Nicholas Sparks sought to ban a club for LGBTQ students at the North Carolina religious school he co-founded.
Sparks, who founded the Epiphany School of Global Studies in New Bern, N.C., with his then-wife, Catherine, in 2006, objected to what he considered a pro-LGBTQ “agenda” on the part of the school’s headmaster, according to emails written by the novelist and obtained by the Daily Beast.
The emails were unearthed as part of a discrimination and defamation lawsuit filed against Sparks, best known as the author of “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember,” by Saul Hillel Benjamin, the Epiphany School’s former CEO and headmaster.
In the lawsuit, filed in 2014, Benjamin claims that Sparks told parents of students that the then-headmaster was mentally ill. Benjamin, a Quaker who was raised in the Jewish faith, also claims Sparks made a series of derogatory remarks about Jews, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
Benjamin claims that LGBTQ students at the Epiphany School had formed an informal club to support one another, which was soon met with bullying by other students who talked about initiating a “homo-caust.” Benjamin says that he discouraged two LGBTQ girls from staging a protest over the controversy and spoke out against bullying during the school’s weekly “Chapel Talk.”
Sparks chastised the headmaster in an email, writing, “Again, you chose to rock this boat early and hard ... with what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make open and accepted. ... As for the ‘Club,’ there obviously can’t be one now, though you might open your doors at your home if you feel qualified to talk to them about it in small group settings.”
In another email, Sparks complained that Benjamin’s priorities were misplaced, writing, “Finally, we’ve spent way, way too much time in the first few months talking about ‘tolerance, diversity, nondiscrimination and LGBT’ in these first 12 weeks.”
Benjamin also claims that Sparks said the reason the Epiphany School had a small number of African American students was that they were “too poor and can’t do the academic work.”
In an email to Benjamin, Sparks wrote, “Regarding diversity, 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 not because of what we as a school has or hasn’t done [sic]. It has nothing to do with racism or vestiges of Jim Crow. It comes down to 1) Money and 2) Culture.”
On Twitter, Sparks released a statement accusing the Daily Beast of repeating “false accusations and claims” against him and the Epiphany School.
“Epiphany is and remains a place where students and faculty of any race, belief, religion, background or orientation should feel welcome,” he wrote. “My commitment to these values, as well as Epiphany’s commitment to these values, have been and remain constant.”
Benjamin’s lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in August.