After The Storm: RWA/RWI

The firestorm that swept the romance community this weekend seems to have burned itself down from an inferno to a campfire. For everyone who’s been following this issue, you’re probably already aware that RWI cancelled the More Than Magic contest. Taken from their blog at http://rwimagiccontests.wordpress.com via http://www.fictionwithfriction.com/2012/02/06/more-than-magic-contest-cancelled/, the text of the announcement reads:

“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.” But . . . you DID!!!!

In addition, this gem of a non-answer was issued by RWA:

(Please note: All emphasis added is my own.)

http://www.rwa.org/cs/rwa_clarifies_chapter_contest_position

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.
So . . . lemme get this straight.
On the chapter level: Rather than level the playing field for a contest that historically has welcomed GLBTQA romance (and this subgenre tends to place very well in this contest historically, lest we forget), they chose to shut down the contest altogether. “If we’re not going to play by MY rules, I’ll take my toys and go home!”
On the organizational level: “We understand why you’re angry, but we don’t think this issue serious enough or of enough gravity to convene the board for a special-action meeting so the MTM contest could proceed if the chapter only abided by RWA’s own guidelines. We’ll get to it when we get to it.” And you’ll notice they cited STATE law. What about FEDERAL law? If RWA is truly a professional organization for romance authors, then it follows they should be bound by federal laws which prohibit discrimination in employment or other public forums because of gender, sexual orientation, handicap, or religious bias, among others.
Just one more thing about this whole mess that made me go “Hmm . . . “
The battle is won, in a way, but it was  a Pyrrhic victory. I don’t doubt there were some hotheads who wrote the contest coordinator with all manner of epithets, slurs, and other unfortunate personal attacks, and I don’t for one second believe that’s right. As I’ve been saying all along, this is an organization failure, not an individual one. This additional evidence of authors behaving badly can only give the entire body who rose up and said “This is unacceptable” a black eye, as Heidi Cullinan cautioned in her original post on the topic.
However, taking this as a whole, I believe RWA has shown its true colors once and for all. I know of many people who’ve decided not to join or renew their memberships (myself being one) and the sheer number of anecdotes detailing individual and small-press discrimination by RWA and its chapters is absolutely horrifying. Their seeming determination to ignore the problem and hope it goes away only underscores this.
Until I see convincing evidence that RWA has the interest and will to ensure that any romance author, regardless of genre, gender, or orientation, is not discriminated against on any basis except the quality of their own work, I am perfectly content to remain working on this issue from the outside.
I feel bad for the authors, many of them doubtless excellent in their own right, who will miss out on the opportunity this contest represented for them. I feel bad for Jackie at RWI; no matter what her organization did, I strongly doubt she deserved the attacks she received for simply serving the will of her chapter. But my worst angst is reserved for the members of RWA who will no doubt face further ostracism and shame from within simply because they spoke their minds and took a stand for authors’ rights, something that matters intensely to all of us who make our living by the pen.
For myself? I don’t give a fuzzy damn what RWA as an organization thinks of me OR my opinion. I and the others who spoke up stood up for what we believe is right. If they don’t like it or want to try to make me a pariah, the conga line forms to the right and I’ll hand out lemons so they can pucker up properly when they get to me.
That’s just how I feel about it, folks.
In the meantime, there’s still a lot of work to do. Make sure RWA knows we’re watching. That’s the only way this will change. In the meantime, if you have voting authority or are a member in good standing with RWA, use your power to remind them they aren’t out of the woods yet. If you’re not a member, make RWA aware they won’t get your membership dues until theyincorporate into their bylaws a sensible, reasonable stance that protects its individual members and their work from discrimination in any form other than the work’s own merits. Keep the pressure on.
Equality for some is equality for none.
Until next time,
Best,
J.S. Wayne
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6 thoughts on “After The Storm: RWA/RWI”

  1. Their only regret seems to be that they’ve been made to cancel the contest and give money back. Aren’t these people writers? Don’t they see how this reads?

    Telling people that their volunteer came under attack has more to be addressed with the few individuals who went so far AND their contact information states to contact her directly. Perhaps they should have considered putting a general email box.

    AND as far as them saying that they disallowed YA submissions…where was that written in their note? The only subgenre it specified was same sex submissions.

    1. It’s a mess. So far, the only thing anyone seems to know reliably is that the stories from the chapter and organization seem to change depending on the time of day. The KNOWN facts, however, remain the same. And yes, I agree: They seem to be determined to stick to their guns. Hopefully, the firestorm of negative opinion concerning this will change something. We can only hope, right?

  2. Great post, Wayne. I’m still furious about all this. What has disallowing YA have anything to do with discriminating against a minority groups? YA isn’t a minority group, and like R. Renee Vickers said, I didn’t see that mentioned in the rules (possibly because my eyes kept stopping on the no same-sex bit).

    We who write and read GLBTQA literature have a lot of work ahead of us. To help create awareness three m/m authors are organizing a m/m-only blog hop (yes, it should probably have been GLBTQA-only, but it’s also to strengthen the m/m subgenre). There are already 130 m/m authors, publishers and reviewers signed up, with more coming, and the plan is to promote the hell out of this thing before May 17th (International Day Against Homophobia). It’s only a small step, but by making this a yearly event it’ll hopefully help getting this genre accepted as “normal” literature. If anything, this thing with RWA has put me on a mission and what originally was supposed to be a nice little m/m-only blog hop has become something so much more.

    1. Hi, Erica!
      There are a lot of very angry and disillusioned people about this topic. It’s such a loaded subject with so many emotional connotations, and I think this situation was handled very poorly.
      The interesting thing, and this may be my faulty memory at work so don’t quote me on this, is that I don’t recall seeing YA disallowed in the original statement. It was only after the storm broke that RWI mentioned it.
      Can you please send me more information on the blog hop at jswayne702@yahoo.com? Depending on how my schedule shapes up in the next few weeks, I’d like to get on board with this.
      Thanks so much for weighing in!

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