‘The Notebook’ Author Nicholas Sparks Affirms Support For LGBTQ Community; Opposing Attorney Says Writer’s Emails “Speak For Themselves” – Update

Greg Evans

UPDATE, with attorney response The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks has released a lengthy, 500-word-plus statement in which he expresses “regret” and apologizes for his words that “have potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community, including my friends and colleagues in that community.”

But an attorney for the former headmaster of the faith-based school co-founded by Sparks responded to today’s statement by countering that the bestselling author’s old 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.”

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Sparks’ new statement arrives four days after the publication of an article on The Daily Beast website that quoted and/or reprinted old emails written by Sparks that suggested anti-gay bias. The emails came to light during a legal battle pitting Sparks and the faith-based Epiphany School of Global Studies against former headmaster Saul Benjamin.

In today’s statement, Sparks, whose The Notebook currently is being adapted as a Broadway musical, produced by Kevin McCollum (Avenue Q, Rent, In the Heights) and Kurt Deutsch, affirmed his “unequivocal” support for “gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights and would never want to discourage any young person or adult from embracing who they are.”

Here is today’s Sparks statement in full:

“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”

The Daily Beast story from Thursday details the legal battle between the hugely successful romance writer Sparks and Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster and CEO of the Epiphany School of Global Studies in New Bern, North Carolina. According to the article, written by Tarpley Hitt, Sparks (a trustee of the school he co-founded in 2006) “chastised” Benjamin for (in Sparks’ own words) promoting “an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.”

Following the release today of Sparks’ new statement, Benjamin’s attorney Lawrence M. Pearson issued the following response to Deadline:

“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.”

Read more about the controversy, and its possible impact on a Broadway musical version of The Notebook, here.

On Thursday, Sparks released a statement on the legal case (which you can read at the link in the paragraph directly above), but his statement today focused on the controversial emails.

The musical Notebook adaptation will feature music and lyrics by “Girls Chase Boys” hit-maker Ingrid Michaelson, with a book by playwright and This Is Us supervising producer Bekah Brunstetter.

Vanessa Hudgens is set to take part in the first staged reading of the musical at Vassar and New York Stage & Film’s prestigious annual play development incubator called the Powerhouse. Others reportedly set to take part in the one-time-only reading on June 23 are Jelani Alladin, Nicholas Belton, Candy Buckley, Antonio Cipriano, Hailey Kilgore and James Naughton. Rent director Michael Greif will direct.

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