Nicholas Sparks Accused of Racism and LGBTQ Discrimination in New Lawsuit
“Defendant Sparks has routinely attributed the absence of any African American students at the School to the fact that ‘black students are too poor and can’t do the academic work.’”
Nicholas Sparks, the famous romance novelist and author of blockbuster hits like The Notebook, has been accused of racism and LGBTQ discrimination in a new lawsuit brought forth by a headmaster at a school founded by Sparks.
“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,” reads a statement from Lawrence M. Pearson partner at Wigdor LLP. His firm is representing Saul Benjamin in a discrimination lawsuit against author Nicholas Sparks.
Benjamin was the headmaster at the Epiphany School of Global Studies for 98 days in 2013, a school founded by Sparks in 2016. The beginning of the lawsuit strongly states the accusations against Sparks and the Epiphany School.
“Nicholas Sparks (“Defendant Sparks”), the world-famous romance novelist of such popular works as The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, describes himself as ‘one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.’ However, despite his commercial success as an author, the greatest fiction created by Defendant Sparks is the public image that he is somehow a proponent of progressive ideals such as diversity and inclusiveness. In reality, the non-fiction version of Defendant Sparks feels free, away from public view, to profess and endorse vulgar and discriminatory views about African-Americans, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (“LGBT”) individuals, and individuals of non-Christian faiths.”
A Culture of Exclusivity and Ignorance
A 2013 e-mail penned by Nicholas Sparks uncovered by The Daily Beast presents the author as being passive at best regarding Epiphany creating an inclusive environment:
“Good. I’m glad you’re in agreement. I’m sure I will be asked that question at the forum, and my answer will be: There will be no club [referring to a LGBTQ club] in the future either…
“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, or you said that the school might get in serious legal trouble.
“Finally, we’ve spent way, way too much time in the first few months talking about ‘tolerance, diversity, non-discrimination, and LGBT’ in these first twelve weeks. There was no simmering, hidden problem with any of these issues, at least as far as the school, or school personnel, or school policy was concerned: Nor was there a simmering problem within the student body.”
However, Benjamin detailed a far different school atmosphere when speaking to The Daily Beast about his lawsuit:
“But the real strain supposedly began in October of 2013, when Benjamin began to hear reports that students had been asking teachers questions about sexuality. According to the complaint, the kids had been gathering informally to discuss their own identities and orientations. When word spread of the group, Benjamin said, he began to receive complaints about bullying. Two of the students accused of bullying were sons of Epiphany school administrators; another was the son of an ‘influential Epiphany parent’ and the vice president of the Student Senate. The students, including the Student Senate vice president, allegedly told their classmates they wanted to start ‘homo-caust.’
“…In fact, the Vice President of the Student Senate admitted to using this term during a music class in front of some of the bullied students,” reads Benjamin’s lawsuit.
Also according to allegations, Epiphany leadership held racial resentment towards black individuals and potential students.
“The attitudes and routine displays of discriminatory animus by Defendants Sparks, [S. McKinley] Gray, [Melissa] Blackerby, and [Tracey] Lorentzen demonstrate the institutional hostility toward non-white and non-Christian students and faculty at Epiphany. For example, Defendant Lorentzen commented that she prefers to drive 35 miles out of her way to shop at a Wal-Mart in Havelock, North Carolina because ‘only black people work at the New Bern Wal-Mart,’ which, as a result, she perceives to be ‘dirty.’ Defendant Lorentzen further noted that she prefers the Havelock location since ‘white people staff that store.’
“Similarly, Defendant Sparks has routinely attributed the absence of any African American students at the School to the fact that ‘black students are too poor and can’t do the academic work.’ Defendant Sparks added that, ‘Diversity should not be measured by percentages of minority students enrolled or minority faculty employed,’ which rang particularly hollow in light of the near total lack of African-American students, faculty, and staff at the School. In fact, despite its location in Craven County (which is nearly 40% African-American), the School is composed of a nearly all-white student body and faculty. Amazingly, in its entire history, Epiphany has only enrolled a handful of African-American students, none of whom graduated. Indeed, as of August 2013, only two students were either African-American or biracial African-American of the 514 members of Epiphany’s K-12 student body.”
Nicholas Sparks’ Statement
Sparks lightened his stance on social media after pressure began to mount, but shortly after an outcry from supporters of the LGBTQ community, the embattled Sparks took to social media to apologize.
— Nicholas Sparks (@NicholasSparks) June 17, 2019
Sparks’ statement lead to the creative and production team behind the musical to make an on the record statement to Rolling Stone, “We are encouraged that Mr. Sparks has made a strong statement of support of the LGBTQ+ community today. The Notebook musical team has been given complete freedom to create a very new piece of art from the source material of the book and our mission for the past 3 years has been and continues to be to create a story of love and humanity that reflects our core values of diversity and inclusion.”