Late last night, links and fiery tweets went around about Romance Writers, Ink, an Oklahome-based chapter of the RWA. They've stated that for the 2012 “More than Magic” competition for published writers, they will “no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.”
Way to be bigoted!
Heidi Cullinan has a blog entry about the problem and cites an unnamed individual who may have received a response from the chapter saying that the reason was some discomfort in reading same-sex romance.
Courtney Milan found links to the specific individuals:
On Kari Gregg’s blog, Cathy Pegau notes that she e-mailed them and was told that they decided not to accept same-sex entries because the majority of the chapter felt uncomfortable with them. Apparently, it’s possible for the MTM contest to get entrants’ books in the hands of diverse judges from multiple RWA chapters who are comfortable with all types of romances and heat levels. You can write M/F erotica. You can write M/M/F. You can write about aliens from another planet who have tentacles, or barbed sexual organs. You can write degrading rapes. None of those things are barred from entry in the More than Magic contest, and if you write them, they’ll try to find judges who are predisposed to like your books.
But they won’t do that if you write same sex romance–even if it’s a sweet romance with no sexual contact whatsoever. No–when it comes to same sex romance, the fact that they might be able to identify judges in their chapter or outside of it who would be willing to read same sex entries and judge them fairly somehow becomes irrelevant. In that instance, the majority gets to say that those entries don’t belong.
I have to wonder if Romance Writers Ink didn't think anyone would notice, or say anything. It's appalling that a chapter would limit their contest in such a way, and send a message that homophobia and discrimination is acceptable.
And it's rather awesome that all the comments to their contest rules page are from ping backs from other writers expressing their outrage about Romance Writers Ink's discriminatory rule.
If Romance Writers Ink wants to be a bigoted chapter, they can have that title. But there's a lot justified outrage and questions of how to respond to their decision.
Milan outlines a course of action that I think is entirely awesome: Romance Writers, Ink's decision is wrong, we should say that it's wrong, and we should discourage anyone from entering their contests:
I’m also asking that unpublished writers refuse to enter their contest for unpublished writers when it’s announced–the “Where the Magic Begins” contest. I’m asking editors and agents to refuse to act as final judges for the “Where the Magic Begins” contest. If you have already entered, please write to them and withdraw your entry. Editors and agents, if you’ve already agreed to serve as final judges, please withdraw. And for everyone–when the final judges–if the final judges are announced for the unpublished contest, please contact any editors and agents you know to inform them of the fact that the chapter discriminates, and ask them to withdraw.
I don’t know if we can change RWA’s policies, but we can make it costly–extremely costly–for chapters to choose to discriminate. It may be their right to choose intolerance. But it’s our right to refuse to tolerate it, and to make them feel the cost of their decision. This is not acceptable.
My understanding is that for some chapters, contests are a very lucrative enterprise. Judges are usually volunteers, and the entry fees more than cover the costs of distributing the manuscripts to the judges. I agree with Milan's strategy: their discrimination should be costly.
But I also think that Romance Writers, Ink's decision comes with a larger consequence. As a wise person on Twitter said about the Komen foundation fiasco this week, just because you take the turd out the punchbowl doesn't mean we forget the turd was there to begin with. Same applies here: even if they change their policy, I know that the members of Romance Writers Ink are “comfortable” with discrimination, and I know that theirs is not a chapter I'd recommend for an aspiring writer of romance.
ETA: The Romance Writers Ink has cancelled their contest, posting the following:
After much consideration, RWI regretfully announces the MTM Published Author Contest has been cancelled. All monies received from entrants will be returned as soon as possible. We have heard and understood the issues raised, and will take those concerns into consideration should the chapter elect to hold contests in the future. Please note: our contest coordinator, Jackie, is a chapter member who graciously volunteered to collect entries and sort by category. It is unfortunate that she has become the object of personal ridicule and abuse. We recognize the decision to disallow same-sex entries is highly charged. We also opted not to accept YA entries. We do not condone discrimination against individuals of any sort.
I call bullshit. It's one thing to not include YA, as it could be argued that it is a different genre. Same-sex romance is still romance, and disallowing it is discrimination, especially when you openly respond to several people inquiring about the decision by saying that same-sex romance made people “uncomfortable.”
I suggest that if RWI offers chapter-taught courses in PR and social media crisis management, no one sign up for those, either.
ETA II: As noted by Laura Vivanco below, RWA National has released a statement:
RWA members are served by 145 local and special interest chapters, and those chapters are individually incorporated and governed. So long as chapters fulfill their obligations under state law, as well as RWA and chapter bylaws, and their programs and services support the professional interests of career focused romance writers, policy affords them rather broad latitude in determining which programs and services to offer. Absent policy governing chapter-level contests, RWA's board cannot intervene in the decisions of individual chapters.
Romance Writers of America does not condone discrimination of any kind. RWA's policies regarding chapter programs and services will be discussed when the board reconvenes in March.
Board of Directors
Romance Writers of America