Why LGBTQ Discrimination in Writing Contests Hurts Everyone
In many romance novels there's a scene where one party rips open the other party's shirt, and there are buttons popping all over the place. The last few days have been just like that in the Romance Publishing world, but so far, no one is heading towards the usual steamy sex scene.
But there is so much steam that even Publishers Weekly noticed. LGBTQ authors were steamed to discover that after several years of doing quite well in the "More Than Magic" contest sponsored each year by Romance Writers Ink (RWI), the Oklahoma Chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), same sex romances were specifically disqualified from competing in the 2012 contest. The reason given was that "some members of the chapter felt 'uncomfortable' with the same-sex entries."
The information about this discomfort was revealed in an impassioned message that Heidi Cullinan, the President of the Rainbow Romance Writers (RRW), posted on her personal blog. The Rainbow Romance Writers are a Special Interest Chapter of the RWA.
The purpose of RWI is to promote excellence in romantic fiction, to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy, to provide a general basis of mentorship to any writer who is actively, and seriously striving to become published and thus establish a career in the romance genre, as well as to provide a camaraderie for writers within the romance publishing industry.
Disqualifying an entire group of career-focused romance writers because they write same-sex romance seems to run counter to this charter.
Probably as a result of the attention brought to bear on this issue, RWI has cancelled the 2012 contest. This is a loss for everyone involved. Contests like this are one of the ways that genre authors (any genre), gain recognition. Being able to say that their book won a contest represents a terrific sales boost. There had to have been a better way.
Speaking of contests and sales boosts, what about the Romance Writers of America? Because the RWA contains special interest chapters like Rainbow Romance Writers and the Chick Lit Writers of the World, the RWA does not police the guidelines for any contests its chapters might choose to have. After all, the Chick Lit chapter does only admit Chick Lit, and asking them to allow anything else would just be, well, weird. On the other hand, expecting a general chapter like Romance Writers Ink, which is not a special interest group, to accept all forms of romance seems reasonable to most readers.
Which comes back to the Romance Writers of America. There are no categories in the RITAs (their annual awards) for same-sex romances. There is a category for Young Adult romances, and there is one for Inspirational Romances. Why Inspirational gets its own category but same-sex doesn't is a head-shaker to me.
I'm not a member of any of the organizations involved, not RWA or RWI or RRW. So why do I care?
First. I publish Ebook Review Central. I cover several LGBTQ publishers. I cover those publishers because their books are popular. ERC is not about my personal taste, and it never has been. It's always been about promoting ebooks, about what is getting read, what is interesting to readers, and also what my fellow librarians have a difficult time finding reviews for.
Second. Awards and contests matter. It's difficult to get started as an author, and incredibly hard to keep going. The kind of recognition represented by winning a contest means increased sales every time a reader sees the list of award winners, and every time an agent or a publisher sees an author's list of credits. Being automatically disqualified because of the genre one chooses to write in is just plain wrong.
Third. Romance is already stigmatized. We have enough problems without creating internal ghettos. Let's stop poking sticks at each other.
Fourth and most important. Prejudice hurts everyone. Always.