I don’t know about you but I never read blogs that talk about what tea the author’s been drinking or how sick their cat has been. To me it’s inconceivable that my readers would have the slighest interest in my morning shower or breakfast. When I browse, I look for subjects with a bit of meat on their bones. The other day I came across a gobsmacking blog item called RWA Shouldn’t Be in the Business of Discrimination. Now, when I see the word discrimination I sit up and pay attention. The post appears on The Amazon Iowan and is all about how one of the Chapters of the Romance Writers of America has banned same sex stories from their competition. This seems relevant to us here chez Tris, so I contacted the author, Heidi Cullinan, and invited her over. I’m pleased to say she accepted.
Tris: Welcome, Heidi. Thank you for agreeing to be my guest today. Would you mind starting off by telling us a little about yourself – who you are, what you do?
Heidi: I am, as my twitter bio states, “Wife, mother, professional amazon.” I write novels, ten so far and they’re all LGBT themed. Mostly m/m, though I have bisexual heroes, lesbian heroines, the whole alphabet soup. I co-own a “sexual liberation blog” with Marie Sexton we call Coffee and Porn in the Morning (cupoporn.net). I’m also the president of Rainbow Romance Writers, the online special interest chapter of RWA for LGBT romances. And an Iowan. I really like being an Iowan.
Tris: I think it’s quite hard for some Brits to understand the huge gap between where we stand on equality and where the US stands. Some of your States and politicians seem positively primitive to us, and the religious right would make us laugh if it weren’t so serious. I guess this latest move by the RWA chapter is fuelled by that?
Heidi: I think so. The story is now that the chapter members didn’t want to be associated with LGBT, which gets really skeevy when you see that LGBT authors have won from them in the past. As for where the religious right comes from, I think you can blame the pilgrims. Though jokes aside, a lot of this has to do with cultural shifts and that much talked about divide in America, but it’s not the 99% verses the 1% or anything quite so sexy. It’s more about the emptying out of small towns, the changing demographics of Safe White Places. I think LGBT is such a lightning rod because the metaphor fits so handily. Invisible “enemy.” Masculinity and femininity “perverted.” Religion “threatened.” All those things come from culture, not THE GAY, but a real-time enemy is so much more comfortable. Believing that eradicating THE GAY will fix everything is so much more palatable than the fact that the world is changing and nothing but nothing will bring back the comforts some of these people know and love. That and they’re given a lot of permission by politicians, religious institutions, and television networks. That helps just a little bit.
Tris: In 1979 we elected a homophobic government which, though it took its time about it, brought in the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. I’ll quote the relevant section:
A local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
As a result, many groups had to close or limit their activities or self-censor. A number of lesbian, gay and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain were closed owing to fears by council legal staff that they could breach the Act. This was only finally repealed at the end of 2003! Hard enough to imagine, but the USA elected a homophobic president at the start of the 21st century and kept him in office until 2009! How much of a setback was George W Bush to the cause of GLBT rights and do you think this latest move by RWA would have happened without President Bush’s terms in office?
Heidi: Wow, that’s a nasty act. Glad it’s gone.
I don’t think President Bush was a specific bully. I think he’s another lightning rod but for the other side. I’ve watched him speak since leaving office, have seen footage withheld from when he was in office, have heard more of his voice and less of the people who controlled the view of his Presidency, and I think he’s more like the rest of us than we care to know. I think he believed he was doing the best thing he could do at every point of his Presidency. And more importantly, a lot of people believed that too. To me that’s the true problem with LGBT rights: too many people think limiting them and even eliminating them isn’t just good it’s necessary. That has to change. It is changing, I think, but incredibly slowly.
For the record, I don’t believe RWA sat down and thought, “Yes, let’s squelch LGBT rights.” RWI did, surely (The Oklahoma chapter.) I think RWA just didn’t want to bother with it. They made a legal reading that said, “It’s okay if you do it.” The thought of how moral that was wasn’t on the page, and I don’t think they care so much that now it’s being brought into the forefront. They are, I’m quite certain, angry at me for blogging what I did. Had I known this was what would happen, I’d have taken a hell of a lot more time on that post and done a lot more double checking. I had a few facts wrong, like who said what to whom and when. Basically though the end result remains that RWA doesn’t have an anti-discrimination policy, and last year when asked point blank if chapters had a legal standing to refuse same-sex entries, the executive director said yes. If that’s not abetting discrimination, I don’t know what is.
Tris: Okay, let’s take a look at your post on the subject. Is there anything you want to point out before we do?
Heidi: That I was really ill when I wrote it and overtired and had absolutely no idea that it would be viral. That’s about it.
Well, and thanks for interviewing me and giving us some higher profile. The best thing to come of this is that our membership feels full to bursting with support. And we went from feeling down and defeated to feeling like we were sailing on an amazing tide. Thank you, Tris and everyone, for that.
Tris: It’s my pleasure, Heidi. Glad to be able to offer support. Here’s that all important blog post of Heidi’s:
RWA Shouldn’t Be in the Business of Discrimination
– Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.
from the contest rules for the More Than Magic contest hosted by Romance Writers Ink Chapter of RWA
It’s taken me several days to be able to write this blog post, and the worst part of it is that my job isn’t done with this. As president of the Rainbow Romance Writers, RWA’s chapter for LGBT chapter, it’s my job to address the situation. I intend to, but I admit, at this point I keep reading that above line and feeling heavy and tired and depressed. I try to tell myself it’s because I’ve been felled by a pretty impressive cold for over a week and that it’s what’s making me tired. It’s a good story, and I wish I could buy it. But the bald truth is that I read that line, and every time it just hurts all over again.
The membership of RRW has been braver than me. Several members have emailed to ask why the change; one member got a reply. She was told it was a hard decision, but some members of the chapter felt “uncomfortable” with same-sex entries. That word keeps resonating too. Uncomfortable.
Well, I have to say, RWI. Discrimination makes me pretty uncomfortable too.
I just can’t get over the balls of stating, right there in black and white on a freaking website, “no same-sex entries.” No Irish need apply. Whites only. Pick your discriminatory phrase and insert it right there, because they all fit. Does that seem harsh? Probably only if you’re not gay or passionate about the rights of LGBT persons.
Here’s the truth. LGBT romance is growing more and more every day, but don’t let anyone try and delude you it’s anywhere but at the more sunlit alleys in the ghetto of the publishing world. Despite our very good sales within our digital-first houses, we aren’t even on the map for most New York publishers. Anyone within the genre knows too that LGBT romance gets plenty of flack from LGBT literary. It’s the same fight mainstream romance has with the mainstream lit fic genre (much like snotty religions, they don’t think they’re a genre, just the True Disciples of Book) except LGBT romance gets some nice kicks in the teeth for having straight women in the room. I’d point out a whole hell of a lot of us are bi, but if you know anything about arguments within the alphabet soup, you know that gets a lot of sneers too.
So it’s nothing short of a fine slice across the hand to be skimming through places LGBT romances might submit entries for contests, trying to get more exposure and out of the ghetto—this one is for published books and last year an m/m novel won—only to find a big fat NO GAYS sign.
When I asked about this, I was told the board made a ruling on same-sex entries in contests and said basically that chapters could make their own judgments based on genre. The heading of the issue was labeled “same-sex entries in contests,” so there’s no question this is the clause that made RWI feel they could pop that line I opened with onto their website, sigh in relief, and move on with their day. Make no mistake. RWA national said this is kosher.
I don’t mind someone reading my novel and disliking it. I don’t mind entering a contest and not being chosen. I don’t even mind someone seeing that my books have same-sex romances in them and saying that’s not what they want to read. But I do mind someone discriminating on principle alone. I do mind someone telling me that I’m a genre one can just skip but not recognizing me as a genre for the RITA awards, making me compete against people who have no idea what a ghetto looks like and how hard it is to get out of one. But to say “here you’re a genre, you can’t play” and then “here you’re not, so have fun with your teaspoon while everyone else gets a backhoe” is not fair. And not right.
It hurts. And it’s wearing. I’m supposed to be professional and I’ll get there, but right now I’m just Heidi Cullinan, author and reader and very tired person. You know what, RWA? We write damn good stories. We work very hard. Do we have some stinkers in our midst? Oh yeah. And you know what? So do the m/f books, and you know it. You know what, judges of RWI who are uncomfortable reading about same-sex relationships? I’m uncomfortable with you judging my work like that without reading it. I’m uncomfortable with you pasting RWA on yourself and then saying, with RWA national’s blessing, that you don’t want to read that gay stuff.
What LGBT romance needs are more readers. What we need is exposure and opportunity. We aren’t asking for special treatment, and believe it or not, we aren’t even asking for a genre label. Yeah, it’s hell competing against the full press in the RITAs, but we’re okay with doing it. In fact, we’d rather. We’re willing to work. We’re willing to throw ourselves at the walls of ignorance and nose-wrinkling and discomfort because boys and boys and girls and girls are kissing and wearing each other’s clothes and revealing they’re gender queer. Yeah, we’re in our ghetto alleys, but we are here and determined and ready to work to show you how much we have to bring to the table. And we’re ready to do it over and over and over until people listen.
So give us a chance, eh? You’re “uncomfortable” with our pairings? We’ll work hard to change your mind. But you have to work too. You have to let us play. You have to admit you’re taking our dues and calling us full members, and you need to treat us like them. You need to not hang “no gays” signs on your contest windows. And if you do, you need to be called out on it.
Are you an author of LGBT romances? Are you a reader of them? Are you an advocate of LGBT rights? Please write to RWI’s contest coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please write to RWA. Please don’t yell and throw glass. You can be hurt, but please be civil. One little pebble thrown becomes an excuse to call us the bullies. And you know? I don’t even think RWA or RWI are the bullies. I think they’re not thinking. I think they’re thinking of themselves and keeping things quiet and easy. I think they don’t think for one second saying “no gays” is the same as hanging “whites only” over a toilet.
If you know that’s exactly what it is like I do, tell them. Politely. Firmly. Over and over and over again.
RWI, RWA: Let same-sex entries into your contest. Change your policies. Don’t discriminate.
Visit Heidi here: