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Romance novelist Nicholas Sparks has been accused of banning an LGBTQ club at a Christian school he co-founded.
Sparks — whose works include The Notebook, Dear John, and The Lucky One — also reportedly complained about the efforts of a former headmaster to “make homosexuality open and accepted” at Epiphany School in North Carolina, which he co-founded in 2006.
The revelations came from emails, obtained by The Daily Beast, that were sent by Sparks to former Epiphany headmaster and CEO Saul Benjamin, who is suing Sparks and other members of the school’s Board of Trustees after he was forced to resign in 2013.
Benjamin alleges that Sparks created an atmosphere of discrimination, epitomized by banning students from forming an LGBTQ club.
According to Daily Beast‘s report, Benjamin was hired in 2013 and set about tackling a perceived lack of diversity at the school, which identifies itself as being “anchored in the Judeo-Christian commandment to Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself.”
After Sparks and other board members objected to Benjamin’s efforts, he claims he was forced to resign.
Benjamin then sued the Board of Trustees, and accused Sparks of homophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism.
In emails sent by Sparks, the author rejects the idea of a pro-LGBTQ club at the school, and tells Benjamin that not allowing students to form a club is “NOT discrimination.”
“Not allowing them admittance is discrimination. Not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination,” Sparks wrote in one email. “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.”
Daily Beast reports that students had started asking teachers about sexuality, and that some students had begun gathering to discuss their sexuality and identity.
Benjamin says that news of the informal group led to bullying, with two sons of Epiphany administrators as well as the son of an influential parent allegedly bullying the LGBTQ students.
In a particularly damning accusation, the students allegedly told their peers that they wanted to enact a “homo-caust.”
Sparks also complained about Benjamin adding sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination policy, arguing that it “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 wrote. “Please stop implying it was something the [Board of Trustees] wanted to do; it’s the law.”
Sparks also objected to a planned protest at the school by two LGBTQ students, who intended to strip on campus and declare their sexuality through body paint. He said that “protests” would not be allowed, and thanked Benjamin for defusing the protest after he was informed of it.
In addition, Sparks complained that Benjamin was trying to make homosexuality “open and accepted” at the school, accusing the former headmaster of ‘rocking the boat.’
“Understand that many people now perceive you as having an agenda with which they disagree,” he wrote. “Again, you chose to rock this boat too early and hard, not only with Chapel changes, but with what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.”
The emails and Benjamin’s complaint also suggested a trend of alleged racism at the school, with Benjamin accusing Sparks of saying that the school’s lack of black students was because they were “too poor and can’t do the academic work.”
In an email, Sparks said that lack of diversity at the school “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.”
Benjamin also claims in his lawsuit that another board member, Tracey Lorentzen, refused to shop at a nearby Wal-Mart because “Only black people work [there],” calling the store “dirty.” She instead allegedly drove 35 miles to a different store.
In a statement, Sparks called the accusations against him “false,” saying the Daily Beast article is “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.”
“I am pleased that the Court has dismissed nearly every claim against me, my Foundation and Epiphany,” he said. “Very importantly, the Court has dismissed all claims of discrimination or harassment against me. While there will be a trial on a few remaining issues, I am confident that a jury will evaluate these claims fairly and decide those claims in our favor as well. 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.”
The lawsuit will head to trial in August, Daily Beast reports, after five years of hearings and discovery.
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