In an email published last week by the Daily Beast, Sparks faulted Saul Benjamin, who was then the headmaster of the Epiphany School of Global Studies, for pushing an “agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.” Sparks forbade Benjamin from allowing the LGBT club, and criticized him in harsh terms for focusing on diversity and the school’s anti-discrimination policy.
“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,” Sparks said in a statement on Monday.
In the statement, Sparks said he did not intend to ban an LGBT club outright — but rather to ensure that any club was formed in accordance with the school’s procedures.
“When in one of my emails I used language such as ‘there will never be an LGBT club’ at Epiphany, I 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,” he said. “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.”
That is not what he communicated to the headmaster in 2013. His exact words were: “In thinking long and hard, with an open heart, about this topic, and after discussions with Trustees and others, I have to conclude that the [Board of Trustees] will not sanction a club or association for GLBT students, no matter what it is called.” He said that gay students would continue to be welcome at the school, and that the school would not tolerate harassment of them.
In another email, Sparks told Benjamin that the previous headmaster had worked with LGBT students and handled the issue “quietly and wonderfully.” “I expect you to do the same,” he wrote.
In his apology, Sparks sought to explain that he did not mean to suggest that students remain in the closet.
“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 said.
Sparks is the author of 20 novels, including most notably “The Notebook.” He founded the Epiphany School of Global Studies in 2006.
Benjamin’s allegations first came to light when he filed a wrongful termination suit in 2014. That suit is set to go to trial in August, although the claims having to do with the school’s discrimination policy have been dismissed by the court. The Daily Beast published a story on Thursday that quoted extensively from Sparks’ emails, which were produced in discovery. In his initial response, Sparks said the story was “not news,” and that it contained “false allegations” that had been dismissed by the judge.
That evidently failed to quell the controversy, and so Sparks offered a fuller and more tempered explanation on Monday. He described himself as an “unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights” and said he “would never want to discourage any young person or adult from embracing who they are.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
Lawrence M. Pearson, the Wigdor LLP partner who represents Benjamin, issued his own response:
“The emails continue to speak for themselves and demonstrate Nicholas Sparks ’s unmistakable lack of support for an LGBT club or the students affected by anti-LGBTQ+ bullying at the school. This new and belated statement by Mr. Sparks will be subject to cross-examination at trial, where it will be contrasted with other statements he has made on the subject of LGBTQ+ inclusion. We are confident that a jury will find Mr. Sparks and the other Defendants liable for their unlawful actions in August.”