LambdaFail

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Contents

Introduction

In September 2009, the Lambda Literary Foundation announced changes or clarifications to their guidelines for nominations for their annual literary awards. These changes specified in part that eligibility for the awards would include the gender orientation/identity of the author, which had not been specified before. This caused a considerable kerfluffle when straight, cis-identified authors who wrote LGBT-themed material felt they were being unfairly excluded from the awards. Supporters of LLF's decisions felt those objecting were acting out of straight, cis privilege and that it was important for the awards to exclusively honor those who self-identified as LGBT.

History

The Lambda Literary Foundation (or LLF) is an organization "dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people throughout society by rewarding and promoting excellence among LGBT writers who use their work to explore LGBT lives."[1] On September 15, 2009, the LLF updated its website to announce "Richard Labonté To Administer 22nd Lambda Literary Awards" and included a link to the guidelines for this year's awards and nominations.[2] One line in the guidelines was singled out by some authors who wrote LGBT-themed material but who were not part of the LGBT communities or identified as such themselves, specifically:

...it should be noted that the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the LGBT content, the gender orientation/identity of the author, and the literary merit of the work.

Some of these authors felt that this rule read as a kind of reverse discrimination, and that the awards should be based purely on the merit of their work and not the identity of the author. Others countered that it was important for the awards to specifically be given only to those who identify as LGBT and that to not understand this was to not understand straight/cis-privilege. The argument went back and forth across many blogs and journals, raising many questions beyond merit vs. privilege including how exactly authors and publishers would need to prove their sexual identity, original slash vs. LGBT literature, as well as whether the largest problem was LLF's late announcement of this change and whether it should not have been put into place until 2010.

On September 25, the LLF posted a clarification on their website regarding the changes to their rules for the 2009 awards. This clarification read in part:

The Board of Lambda Literary Foundation, under the leadership of Christopher Rice, spent much of last year discussing how our literature has evolved, and the actual mission of the Foundation given the perilous place we find ourselves in with our drastically changed market conditions. We also took into consideration the despair of our own writers when a heterosexual writer, who has written a fine book about us, wins a Lambda Award, when one or more of our own LGBT writers may have as a Finalist a book that may be the only chance in a career at a Lambda Literary Award.
We discussed two essential questions: who we are, what we are here to accomplish. We discussed every single word of this, our Mission statement: The Lambda Literary Foundation is dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people throughout society by rewarding and promoting excellence among LGBT writers who use their work to explore LGBT lives.
As to what defines LGBT? That is not up to anyone at Lambda Literary Foundation to decide. The writers and publishers are the ones who will be doing the self-identifying. Sexuality today is fluid and we welcome and cherish this freedom. We take the nomination of any book at face value: if the book is nominated as LGBT, then the author is self-identifying as part of our LGBT family of writers, and that is all that is required. There are many permutations of LGBT and they're all welcome as that LGBT term we've all adopted makes clear.

Arguments in favor or support of LLF's actions

This section needs more information.

Ann Somerville:

This is a GLBT issue, for GLBT people only to discuss. GLBT people have differing – even wildly differing – opinions on the thing. No one GLBT person’s opinion has any more weight than another, no matter how loudly they shout. Nonetheless, they all deserve to be listened to respectfully by GLBT allies. GLBT allies should shut the hell up. That’s the very least we can be expected to do in such situations.
If your response as a straight* m/m writer is to whine, criticise, come out with homophobic remarks, and threaten to stop writing gay characters in response...then you’re not an ally. You’re just a whiny, entitled dickhead. The GLBT community can do without you, and so can this genre, frankly. Being an ally means being an ally all the time – not just when it suits you and wins you hugs and cuddles.[3]

Avalon's Willow:

A bunch of straight women writing primarily for more straight women have ABSOLUTELY NO PLACE in an award system of queer lit about queer experience. Because what they're writing is not queer experience. It's not. It just isn't.
The PROBLEM is that straights have every fucking thing else. And for every submission by a straight author, there's one less submission by a queer author to be considered. And when it comes to an award and recognition system that was originally set up to say "Here, we're queer, and we're going to write about our lives because our lives are deserving. Our lives count. Our stories count!" It's just plain fucked up and wrong to have the spotlight appropriated by people who are not a part of that struggle.[4]

kynn

Cis, straight people have advantages over queer people even when writing queer fiction. It is reasonable and appropriate for the LLAs to not let an organization meant for activism for an oppressed minority become a group supporting the privileged majority.[5]

Arguments against/questioning LLF's actions

This section needs more information.

erastes:

It’s fair enough, I suppose as long as ALL OTHER AWARDS do the same. If you are writing a heterosexual book, you stand more of a chance of winning if you are heterosexual.
Obviously if you are a man this can be proved—this is getting as silly as Athletics – but if I identify as a bisexual, are they going to send the sex police around? What’s it got to do with them anyway?? It’s not a “pat you on the back for being gay” award. it’s a BOOK award. The BOOK should be the only consideration. Not what’s between anyone’s legs, or who inserts what into whom. Or not.[6]

elf:

They've said straightness disqualifies a person from all considerations. They haven't said--nor denied--that gay men will not be considered for lesbian fic. (I grant that it'd be ridiculous to assume this. However, I never assume the sensible when I'm dealing with biases. And it's not like the LGBT community has any history of avoiding drama, or being gender-unbiased in its activism.)
Some of my grumbling is personal style preferences--I don't like waffling rules; don't like "we've decided some people aren't allowed, but we're not going to tell you where we're drawing those lines."
If you think queer/straight is an obvious and simple binary, you may think they have specified this. (Or rather, LGBT/non-LGBT; they haven't used the terms "straight" or "queer" in that section. They don't acknowledge non-LGBT queerness--which doesn't matter, because they don't define LGBT.)
Adding identity to the criteria for consideration, rather than just literary style & quality, forces an identity-statement decision on the authors. Not being willing to define that identity opens the field for politics: if an author identified as straight when the book was published, but had decide zie was bi by the time submissions were allowed, is it eligible? What if the identity switch went the other direction?
I grant those are both odd, rare examples. Not likely. However, requiring publishers to demand that their authors tell them their sexual orientation is... odd.[7]

teddypig:

The historical point of this award has been to recognize “excellence” in “the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender literature”. The book was important not the sexual orientation of the author who happened to write it. This whole thing seems wrapped up in that old chestnut argument that a gay writer writes a more “authentic” gay story. Which is all a buncha bull. I would love to hear someone say a gay writer has no business writing a straight character or women have no business writing a male character. You don’t understand me!
What this new wording says to me is gay people can’t “cut it” in the “real literary world” because I guess their gayness permeates their writing so Lambda Literary’s main purpose now is to mindlessly cheer lead heterophobia so us poor unappreciated gay folks can fight the system or whatever. I wonder how they plan to authenticate the writers sexuality? Who gives the best blow job?[8]

See also

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