“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 wrote in part.
Last week, The Daily Beast reported that Sparks was locked in a legal battle with Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster of the Epiphany School of Global Studies which Sparks founded in 2006, an institution “anchored in the Judeo-Christian commandment to Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself,” per its mission statement. Benjamin had taken it upon himself to implement diversity measures after beginning his tenure in 2013, according to The Daily Beast, but met alleged resistance from Sparks. Emails obtained by The Daily Beast showed Sparks adamantly declaring he would not allow an LGBT club at the school.
“Not allowing them admittance is discrimination. Not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination,” he wrote in November 2013. “Also, remember, we’ve had gay students before, many of them. [A former headmaster] handled it quietly and wonderfully, and the students considered themselves fortunate. I expect you to do the same.”
In emails, Sparks also seemingly fought against Benjamin’s efforts to include sexual orientation in the school’s non-discrimination policy: “About the non-discrimination policy you keep bringing up: please remember that 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.’ Please stop implying it was something the BOT wanted to do; it’s the law.”
In his initial response to The Daily Beast, Sparks called the allegations “false,” adding, “Since 2014, I have vigorously been defending the lawsuit brought against me and the Epiphany School of Global Studies by its former headmaster, Saul Benjamin. The article appearing in today’s The Daily Beast 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.” He further claimed that “the Court has dismissed nearly every claim against me, my Foundation and Epiphany.”
Benjamin’s attorney, meanwhile, said the following in a statement: “The emails written by Nicholas Sparks speak for themselves. Despite Mr. Sparks’s attempts to downplay his discriminatory actions, he does not get to decide what is or isn’t ‘news.’ We look forward to vindicating Mr. Benjamin’s rights at trial in August.”
Now, Sparks is expressing contrition, while still denying the overall allegation. “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,” he wrote in his Monday statement. “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.”
In addressing the specific matter of the emails obtained by The Daily Beast, in which he said there would “never” be an LGBT club at the school, Sparks attempted to clarify. ” 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,” he explained. “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.”
Lawrence M. Pearson, Partner at Wigdor LLP and attorney for Saul Hillel Benjamin, provided a statement to EW in response to Sparks’ new statement. “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,” it reads. “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.”
You can read Sparks’ full statement below.