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8.29.2011

Lambda Literary Announces New Award Guidelines

The Lambda Literary Foundation has rescinded their sexual orientation requirements for the Lammys. According to the press release:

"For its first 20 years, the Lambda Literary Foundation accepted submissions for the Lambda Literary Awards based solely on a book’s LGBT subject matter.  That policy changed in 2009 to restrict the awards to self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer authors. After two years of implementing the LGBT-only policy, the queer book community remains sharply divided about limiting Lammy nominations to LGBT authors only.
In its review of the LGBT-only policy, the LLF Board of Trustees took into consideration LLF’s mission statement...and core provisions in its Bylaws.  The Board also noted that the large majority of finalists and winners of the Lambda Literary Awards have been LGBT authors, but not all of them.  There have also been a small number of outstanding books about LGBT lives written by our heterosexual allies. 
In addition, the LLF Board solicited opinions from individuals in the LGBT book community, including publishers, authors, important donors, readers, and casual supporters. Those opinions represented both sides of the issue and were, in many cases, intensely held.
After careful consideration of all these factors, the Board crafted a new policy designed to honor excellence in writing about LGBT lives. The new policy has three components:
- LGBT authors will be recognized with three awards marking stages of a writer’s career: the Betty Berzon Debut Fiction Award (to one gay man and one lesbian), the Jim - Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (to one male-identified and one female-identified author), and the Pioneer Award (to one male-identified and one female-identified individual or group)
- Awards for the remaining Lambda Literary Award categories will be based on literary merit and significant content relevant to LGBT lives. These awards will be open to all authors regardless of their sexual identity
- All book award judges will be self-identified LGBT

While many have applauded this inclusion, others are lamenting the policy as privileged, giving awards to monosexuals, while ignoring bisexuals and transgenders. In a letter to Co-Chair Dr. Judith Markowitz, Rose Fox points out:

In other words, non-monosexual debut authors need not apply, and genderqueer and intersex authors as well as those involved in different-sex collaborations are not welcome at any stage of their careers. How can you even think of calling this a new policy of inclusiveness?
I cannot fathom the decision-making process that led to the splitting of these awards along gendered lines, especially since you must be aware of the growing number of queer people who do not identify as gay, lesbian, male, or female. Why not simply state that each award will go to two people a year? Why take such specific and exclusionary steps?...Saying that only gays and lesbians, and only men and women, are eligible for recognition is really no different from saying that only queer authors are eligible for the awards in general, except that you have made the criteria even more restrictive. You will still need to contend with the deep moral problems that arise from demanding that authors out themselves–in a world that can still be extremely dangerous for overtly queer and trans people, especially people of color, people who don’t conform to gender norms, and people living in repressive and overtly anti-queer cultures–and subscribe to a particular set of definitions. I had hoped for better from the Lammys. I’m very, very disappointed.

All of this, of course, cannot be too surprising. Bs & Ts are routinely left out. Remember HRC? Part of the problem is visibility. Do you know someone bi or trans? Now, in the case of Lambda, do we know any bi or trans writers, who specifically explore the issues to pansexuality and gender? Admittedly, there are few. And part of the problem might be that publishers might not see these works as marketable.

Also, would having BT writers on the LLF Board of Trustee help? The current board, in addition to Markowitz, include David McConnell, Teresa DeCrescenzo, Scott Cranin, Katherine V. Forrest, Sue A. Greer, J. Michael Samuel, Carla Trujillo, and Don Weise, none of whom (to my knowledge, correct me if I'm wrong), B or T.

How can the bi and trans community react to this? On the one hand, we are talking about writers and writers will continue doing what they do best, which is write and if they're good at it, write well. The best writers, are perhaps the most marketable ones will perhaps rise to the top. But there is always a chance of marginalization. For example, for every white trans author who might get recognized, there is always a chance that a magnificent trans writer of color will not get the press time they deserve.

The perils of identity!

In the end, Markowitz seem to almost own up to any flaws in the policy: it's all because of deadlines:

The Debut Fiction awards, like any other funded awards, cannot be changed without the full support of the funders. Those discussion are in process but LLF needed to release the guidelines before September 1 so that authors and publishers could begin making nominations.

In LLF's defense, bureaucracy kinda sucks.

Anyway, thanks to Rose Fox and Publisher's Weekly, I learned the acronym QUILTBAG.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for speaking out.
    You're right, it is about voice and visibility. But sometimes, I feel helpless against the forces that be in the publishing industry.
    I publish with Bold Strokes Books and have their support, but as a biwriter writing about bisexual characters, the road to success in this allready tight niche, is going to be long and perilous. And now with the Lammmy's new guidelines, well.
    We need more people coming out as queer, which for me, is a gentle and beautiful word.
    People wake up. Queer is the new gay. We need a queer revolution: in media, marketing, and litterature. I urge every queer writer to be bold and write about the grey areas of bisexuality, instead of bending under the pressure of sales objectives. We don't need to be angry or bitter. We need to be strong and hold the line. Change doesn't start in books, it starts with the people who write them.

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  2. I've been using 'quiltbag' for at least five years, though the earliest published example I can find is here.

    As for LLF, they need to step up and be LGBT, not LG(bt).

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