There has been news going around about Romance Writers, Ink., a chapter of Romance Writers of America.
Their annual contest, “More than Magic” judges published romance novels. As the contest rules explain:
Our judges are all romance readers. Within that group are RWI chapter members and members of other RWA chapters. We recruit judges nationwide and even worldwide (for e-books) and our only requirement is that they are regular romance readers.
They tell us which categories and what “heat” level they prefer to read, so our entrants’ books get into the hands of people who might give them the most favorable rating.
Our final round judges are chosen for the diversity of their romance reading interests and enjoyment, sense of fair comparison across all categories, and knowledge of the romance genre.
Oh, wait. That’s not the part that I meant to quote. The contest rules also say this:
– Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.
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.
Others have taken a variety of tactics. They’ve written to RWA (who apparently sanctioned this nonsense). They’ve written to the contest directly. I suspect that writing to RWA and the contest will result in much handwringing–there’s nothing in the P&PM or the Bylaws that prevent this, not without stretching overly much. There’s nothing in the P&PM that prevents a chapter from barring interracial romance, either. What should prevent such things from happening–is good sense and common human decency.
While we can put pressure on RWA to create and maintain more egalitarian guidelines, RWA as an organization moves at a snail’s pace.
But just because something’s allowed doesn’t mean that it must be accepted blindly. This is not okay. And just because we’re working on a longer-term solution by discussing policy changes doesn’t mean that we have to let the instant behavior slide.
And so I’d like to suggest something simple: I’m asking that people don’t enter the More than Magic contest, and e-mail the contest coordinator at email@example.com to let her know why. You don’t need to be rude or uncivil. Just clear and concise.
The message I sent was this:
Dear Romance Writers, Ink:
I will not be entering your More than Magic contest because, while you state in your judging guidelines that you make an effort to find judges who are compatible with diverse romance works, you exclude same-sex romances. This is unacceptable to me, and it irreparably poisons the value of the contest itself. I have forwarded my reasons for refusing to enter the contest to my chapter-mates.
I hope that you reconsider your guidelines in upcoming years, and find a way to make accommodations for all romances.
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.
I will be sending the text of this post to the RWA-PAN loop and my local chapter loops. Forwarding encouraged.