Nicholas Sparks Pens Lengthy Response to LGBTQ Controversy at His Christian School
'The Notebook' author is facing accusations that he suppressed the discussion of sexual identity at the North Carolina Christian school he co-founded, the Epiphany School of Global Studies.
Nicholas Sparks is firing back at a report showing emails sent by The Notebook author, wherein he defends his decision to ban an LGBTQ club.
On Thursday, a story in The Daily Beast reported that the author had banned student protests relating to diversity issues and a club where students discussed sexual identity at the Epiphany School of Global Studies, a K-12 Christian school Sparks co-founded in 2006 in North Carolina.
The story additionally excerpted emails that emerged in the discovery portion of a lawsuit former school headmaster Saul Benjamin brought against Epiphany and Sparks, which showed Sparks defending a decision to ban what he called a "gay club" and telling Benjamin that others perceived he had an "agenda" that "strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.” Sparks told Benjamin in the wake of his action to shut down a group to discuss sexual identity, "don’t rock the boat on this particular issue."
After he banned the group, Sparks also defended Epiphany's track record with gay students: "Remember, we’ve had gay students before, many of them,” he wrote. “[The former headmaster] handled it quietly and wonderfully… I expect you to do the same.”
Sparks additionally hit back against Benjamin's claim that the school had a diversity problem. "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. It has nothing to do with racism or vestiges of Jim Crow. It comes down to 1) Money and 2) Culture,” he wrote.
In his response to the story, the author said that the emails were the latest attempt by the plaintiff to smear his and the school's reputation. "The article appearing in today’s The DailyBeast [sic] is not news, and repeats false accusations and claims made against Epiphany and me, and largely ignores the overwhelming evidence we have submitted to the Court," Sparks said in a response to the story on Thursday. He added, "As we prepare for trial, I want to make one thing clear: Epiphany is and remains a place where students and faculty of any race, belief, religion, background or orientation should feel welcome. My commitment to these values, as well as Epiphany’s commitment to these values, have been and remain constant."
On Monday, he issued a lengthy statement, stressing that he is "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."
"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," his statement began.
He concluded, "It’s never been my intent to be unresponsive to the needs of the LGBTQ or any minority community. In fact the opposite is true, and I trust my actions moving forward will confirm that."
In addition to The Notebook, Sparks' novels The Choice, The Longest Ride, The Best of Me, Safe Haven, The Lucky One, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song have all been made into films, cumulatively earning three-quarters of a billion dollars, according to Sparks' website. All of Sparks' novels have been New York Times bestsellers, and he has sold over 105 million copies worldwide.
The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Sparks' publisher and the team behind the The Notebook musical for comment.
See Spark's full statement below.
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.
Thirteen years ago, I founded the Epiphany School of Global Studies anchored in the commandment to love God and your neighbor as you love yourself. I am currently engaged in a several years-long lawsuit with a former headmaster of the school. As a result of that suit, several e-mails from me have been released to the public that on the surface, portray me as someone intolerant of having an LGBTQ club at the school. Unfortunately, the ongoing lawsuit constrains what I can reveal about the specific circumstances six years ago that gave rise to these emails, but I very much want to articulate my beliefs and share where my heart is on this matter.
I believe in the school’s founding principle of loving God and thy neighbor as thyself, and that includes members of the LGBTQ community. I believe in and unreservedly support the principle that all individuals should be free to love, marry and have children with the person they choose, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. This is and has always been a core value of mine. I am 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.
When in one of my emails I used language such as “there will never be an LGBT club” at Epiphany, l was responding heatedly to how the headmaster had gone about initiating this club – like most schools, Epiphany has procedures and policies for establishing any student club. My concern was that if a club were to be founded, it be done in a thoughtful, transparent manner with the knowledge of faculty, students and parents – not in secret, and not in a way that felt exceptional. I only wish I had used those exact words. Similarly, when I referred to a prior headmaster addressing the presence of gay 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.
In 2013 I was embroiled in a rapidly escalating conflict and besieged by vociferous complaints about a wide range of incidents involving the headmaster’s behavior. Ironically, as a writer I should have understood the power and enduring nature of my words, but like many people sent emails off in haste under stressful and tumultuous conditions. My greatest regret, however, is not my lack of deliberation, but first and foremost that I failed to be more unequivocal about my support for the students in question.
It’s never been my intent to be unresponsive to the needs of the LGBTQ or any minority community. In fact the opposite is true, and I trust my actions moving forward will confirm that.
Sincerely, Nicholas Sparks