Hot Buttons Popping : RWI, RWA, RRW and LGBTQ writing contest discrimination

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 Rainbow Romance Writers specialize in LGBT romance. It says so right there on their home page. Romance Writers Ink states their own purpose, quoted from their website, as:

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 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.

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5 thoughts on “Hot Buttons Popping : RWI, RWA, RRW and LGBTQ writing contest discrimination

  1. These authors need to remember that their rights end where the rights of others begin. If that group didn’t want to have LGBT BOOKS (not authors but BOOKS with that subject matter), then that ought to be their right. The authors who write the LGBT books have the right to take their contest dollars someplace else rather than trying to INTIMIDATE these people.

    Isn’t this a classic example of BULLYING?

    I’m going to remember all the authors who screamed and hollered about this contest.

    1. I’d like to restate the points here. The Oklahoma chapter states their guiding principles very clearly in the purpose statement on their website, which I quoted above. Nowhere in those lines does the chapter define exactly which genders or how many genders have to be the participants in the romance fiction they promote the excellence of.

      A reasonable person would assume that romance fiction is defined as some persons (although aliens and vampires were permitted) finding love and a happily-ever-after or at least a happy-for-now constituted a romance, whether those persons were of the same, opposite, or multiple genders.

      Specialist chapters state clearly that they cover a particular part of the romance fiction landscape. Rainbow Romance Writers are a specialist chapter. So is Hearts through History, the historical romance chapter, so is the Chick Lit chapter. Reasonable readers of specialist charters understand instantly that the specialists are exactly what they say, specialists.

      When this year’s contest rules were posted, the writers who were affected spoke out, as is their right. They are romance writers, and they were excluded from a what had, up until this year, been an all-topic romance contest. The discussion of the reasons behind that exclusion is now making a lot of people uncomfortable.

      As it should.

    2. It is hard enough to find accepting places to show GBLT books, without encountering misguided attitudes. The RWI’s contest had a successful past with GBLT books, therefore it is understandable that closing the door in their faces should raise a protest, particularly as the only reason was that it made members “uncomfortable”.

      Intimidation and bullying are strong words to describe the protest, and ironic considering how the GBLT community is treated by society. Outspoken yes, by people bitterly disappointed to encounter exclusion again. If one contest chooses to exclude them, then what about the next, and the next.

      The RWI could have made an apology, changed its rules to allow GBLT books and accepted the offer of the RRW to find judges, to help those that dislike GBLT books. Instead it chose to cancel the contest, thereby hurting all authors.

      There are no winners in this issue. All the GBLT authors wanted was a chance to enter the contest as all other genres were allowed to.

    3. If RWI had said “no romances between interracial couples” or “no romances with disabled characters” or “no romances written by people named Sue”, would you feel the same way, Sue?

      The point isn’t whether RWI has the technical, legal right to bar specific books. Obviously, they do have that right. They have the right to discriminate based on homophobia. Authors also have the right to state their opinion that such discrimination is unethical and despicable.

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