Famed romance author Nicholas Sparks is facing renewed claims he discriminated against LGBTQ+ students at the Christian school he runs in North Carolina.
According to a report by The Daily Beast, Sparks (author of The Notebook and A Walk To Remember) has been in a legal battle since 2014 with Saul Benjamin, former CEO and headmaster of Epiphany School of Global Studies, over what Benjamin claims was a pattern of racism and homophobia.
"Sparks and members of the Board unapologetically marginalised, bullied, and harassed members of the School community whose religious views and/or identities did not conform to their religiously driven, bigoted preconceptions," Benjamin's legal complaint claimed.
The allegations have been reported before; a New York Magazine investigation in 2015 revealed Sparks had tried to ban Benjamin from starting an LGBT club.
"Some [people] perceive … an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted … The [board] will not sanction a club or association for GLBT students," he allegedly wrote in an email. "As for the club, there obviously can't be one now."
While Sparks has issued a statement today calling the allegations "false" and "not news," the newly obtained emails by The Daily Beast reveal Sparks chastised Benjamin for trying to start an LGBT club.
In one email, he reprimanded Benjamin for "what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted". In another, he reportedly suggested a motion that would ban student protests in the school, in response to two lesbian students who planned to reveal their orientation during chapel.
In another, he chided Benjamin for his "misplaced priorities at the school level (GLBT, diversity, the beauty of other religions, as opposed to academic/curricular/global issues, Christian traditions, etc.)."
He also referenced previous gay students at the school who had "handled it quietly," saying, "I expect you to do the same".
Sparks also wrote that he believed Benjamin suffered from a mental disorder, which led the latter to sue for defamation.
"While I am not a doctor – and as scary as this may sound to you – I do believe that [Benjamin] is suffering from a mental illness of some sort," Sparks wrote in a message.
"What that is – Alzheimer's, a variance of bi-polar, something else – I have no idea."
Sparks defended himself in a statement shared on his Twitter account today, saying "nearly every claim" against him has been dismissed in court.
As well as The Notebook, Sparks is the author behind hits such as Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song and Safe Haven, all of which have been adapted into films.