Lambda’s Explanation of the New Guidelines and my comments

I’m sure most of you have seen this by now but here is Katherine Forrest’s response to the deluge of concerns about the new lambda guidelines, which seemed to exclude non-GLBTQ writers from receiving a Lambda award.

Clarification of Lambda Literary Foundation Policy Guidelines of Nominations, 2009 Lambda Literary Awards, from Katherine V. Forrest, Interim President, Board of Trustees.

September 25, 2009 – The Board of Lambda Literary Foundation, under the leadership of Christopher Rice, (who has now resigned. erastes) spent much of last year discussing how our literature has evolved, and the actual mission of the Foundation given the perilous place we find ourselves in with our drastically changed market conditions. We also took into consideration the despair of our own writers when a heterosexual writer, who has written a fine book about us, wins a Lambda Award, when one or more of our own LGBT writers may have as a Finalist a book that may be the only chance in a career at a Lambda Literary Award.

We discussed two essential questions: who we are, what we are here to accomplish. We discussed every single word of this, our Mission statement: The Lambda Literary Foundation is dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people throughout society by rewarding and promoting excellence among LGBT writers who use their work to explore LGBT lives.
Lambda Literary Foundation is a service organization for our writers. Our LGBT family of writers. We celebrate those who support our writers, those in all the allied areas of our literature: our readers, publishers, booksellers, publicists, agents, etc. We celebrate straight allies of every kind and always have throughout our history, with the Bridge Builder Award, Small Press Award, Publishers Service Award, Editor’s Choice Award, among other awards and acknowledgments, and we’ll continue to do so.

Today we continue to be excluded in heterosexual society as we have been historically. Our books are taken from the shelves of libraries all over the country and even from the website of Amazon.com this year. It is more difficult to be an LGBT writer now than it has been in many decades, more difficult to make any income from our written words, much less a living. Publishers have closed, stores have closed, the markets seem to be shrinking with each passing day. It seems more urgent than ever that LLF be as active and supportive a service organization as we possibly can be for our own writers, and that’s what we’re working on, with a Board that could not be more passionate in our commitment. We will soon have a new, far more comprehensive website connecting all segments of our publishing world, and we’re determined to restore our Writers Retreat for emerging writers, the single most important initiative we’ve undertaken next to the Lambda Literary Awards.

As to what defines LGBT? That is not up to anyone at Lambda Literary Foundation to decide. The writers and publishers are the ones who will be doing the self-identifying. Sexuality today is fluid and we welcome and cherish this freedom. We take the nomination of any book at face value: if the book is nominated as LGBT, then the author is self-identifying as part of our LGBT family of writers, and that is all that is required. There are many permutations of LGBT and they’re all welcome as that LGBT term we’ve all adopted makes clear.
We hope this will clarify our policy and answer some of your questions and concerns. We welcome your comments.

Right then, here are my comments.

We also took into consideration the despair of our own writers when a heterosexual writer, who has written a fine book about us, wins a Lambda Award, when one or more of our own LGBT writers may have as a Finalist a book that may be the only chance in a career at a Lambda Literary Award.

So what you are saying is that you are excluding the heterosexual writers because they often write better?  No, of course you are not, but it sounds this way.  I hardly think that anyone “despairs” when they don’t win an award. Not one that is set up in a fair way, anyway.  I know that I wouldn’t want the rules to be changed just so I have a greater chance of winning.  I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “the only chance of a career at a LLA” as that doesn’t make sense.

As someone has just pointed out to me, if the straight authors had bitched that Hollinghurst had stolen their one chance to win a Booker the year they entered they’d have been laughed out of the literary world for being speshul butthurt snowflakes.

Today we continue to be excluded in heterosexual society as we have been historically. Our books are taken from the shelves of libraries all over the country and even from the website of Amazon.com this year. It is more difficult to be an LGBT writer now than it has been in many decades, more difficult to make any income from our written words, much less a living. Publishers have closed, stores have closed, the markets seem to be shrinking with each passing day. It seems more urgent than ever that LLF be as active and supportive a service organization as we possibly can be for our own writers, and that’s what we’re working on, with a Board that could not be more passionate in our commitment. We will soon have a new, far more comprehensive website connecting all segments of our publishing world, and we’re determined to restore our Writers Retreat for emerging writers, the single most important initiative we’ve undertaken next to the Lambda Literary Awards.

This is no different whether you are heterosexual or GLBTQ. Straight writers of GLBTQ fiction found their books removed from Amazon in the same way as everyone else because of the subject material, not because of the gender of the author.  There was no gender discrimination as to the author, only because of the content of the books.  The Running Press books – Alex being openly straight, me being Bi – were removed from the shelves of the Romance section of bookshelves and libraries (where Running Press intended them to be) because some customers complained about the nasty gay books polluting their romance. Smaller presses find their books denied from bookstores because of the CONTENT, not because of the AUTHOR.

Instead of whining about how the world is shrinking for gay books, what we should be doing is submitting our books – en masse – to the mainstream, to Mills and Boon, to every book publisher out there.  Instead of hiding behind a lavender veil and agreeing with the hype that “there’s no market for it” “no-one wants to buy it” “No-one will publish it” we should be pushing—no, stabbing furiously at the heart of mainstream and forcing them to pay attention.There is already a level of acceptance of gay characters in other genres than romance.  I would never have imagined, five years ago, that a gay romance line would be put into the romance aisle, but because kept being a pest, and I submitted to that publisher, it happened.

As to what defines LGBT? That is not up to anyone at Lambda Literary Foundation to decide. The writers and publishers are the ones who will be doing the self-identifying. Sexuality today is fluid and we welcome and cherish this freedom. We take the nomination of any book at face value: if the book is nominated as LGBT, then the author is self-identifying as part of our LGBT family of writers, and that is all that is required. There are many permutations of LGBT and they’re all welcome as that LGBT term we’ve all adopted makes clear.

I would agree.  It’s not up to the LLF to decide on this.  I wouldn’t say that it’s up to ANYONE to decide on this.  The last thing the GLBTQ society needs is someone saying “this is…”

What I can see happening here, in their “we will take your sexual persuasion on trust” is that people are going to get nasty about it.  If a married man or woman submits a book, and more particularly if they win – there’s going to be wank.  You know it, I know it.  People are going to say “He/she’s married, she isn’t GLBTQ”  What about someone like me, single but bi?  Am I really bi or am I lying?  What about a single celibate? Who can tell?  No-one
And what about the categories? Can only a gay man write gay fiction? A Bi write bi? and so on?  When does a trans man become a woman, and if she is then a straight woman is he then ineligible for the Lambdas?  What about biography and non fiction?  Are they SERIOUSLY saying that only gay people are qualified to write these categories?

Someone needs to further clarify here, I think.

My opinion is that the LLF are opening a can of worms that is going to explode in their faces when the awards are announced.  I assume, from the change in policy, that they’ve had writers bitching about the winners of the awards in the past.  Well, I can see that that will be nothing compared to the bitching they are going to get.

What this seems like, and what I wasn’t afraid of asking them about in my letter, is crony-ism.  If they don’t KNOW if a writer is GLBTQ, then they will assume that they are not.  In that case they will give the award to the “out” finalist even if his or her book is not as good as the person they are not sure about.

What concerns me most is that being forced to declare your sexual orientation is a crime—at least in the UK.  My boss cannot ask me what my gender or sexual persuasion is, not even for positive discrimination.  He can ask me on an application form, in the same way he can ask me for my ethnicity or religion—but I have no legal obligation to answer truthfully (I’ve often put Chinese, or Jedi) or even answer at all.

But by simply entering into the Lambda’s I have to do this.

This doesn’t bother me one whit, but what about if someone were in the armed forces?  Or lived in a dangerous place for gay people, somewhere like Jamaica?  it’s something to think about.  I don’t know what the laws about disclosing sexual preference is in the USA, but I’m pretty sure it has to be the same, Yes?  How desperate are we to win awards, anyway?

It will impact on who straight writers can write for.  At the moment, most publishers don’t care what sex you are, what sexual persuasion you are and certainly not who you are sleeping with at the moment.  However – this opens the door for them to start caring.  I have written for Richard Labonte several times and he’s never cared that I’m a female, but if he wants to continue to enter his anthologies into the awards he’ll have to make sure that all of his writers are GLBT. Publishers may start taking these questions into consideration.

It’s given me a lot to think about.

If you have blogged about this subject, I would be very grateful if you would supply me with a link. I intend to write again to the LLF about this matter and show the depth of concern in the writing community, GLBTQ and otherwise.

© Copyright 2009 Erastes, All rights Reserved. Written For: Erastes
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