For the past day and a half, I've been trying to decide what, if anything, I want to say about this issue. I think the best way to start is at the beginning, because this is turning into something much bigger than I think anyone expected it to be.
On the mailing list for the Rainbow Romance Writers, someone mentioned that the rules for this year's More Than Magic contest, run by the Tulsa, OK chapter of RWA, clearly state: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category. The reaction of the RRW was dismay; in previous years, not only were same-sex entries allowed in MTM, they'd won (Mexican Heat placed first in the Erotic Romance category in 2010).
A lot of us were confused by the reversal. I sent an e-mail asking why the change, and the response was that the chapter membership was "uncomfortable" with same-sex romance and therefore the whole chapter chose to exclude such entries.
When one of the RRW members e-mailed the national organization wondering whether the local chapters were allowed to exclude same-sex romances from their chapter contests, the response was that individual chapters were free to set their own rules. Which on the face of it is fair enough. However, the response included a reference to the RRW chapter contest, saying that from another perspective, how would the RRW feel if we were told we could not have a contest limited to LGBT entries?
Now, this misses the point entirely. The Rainbow Romance Writers is a special interest chapter, meaning it's based on content, not geographic region. There are a number of special interest chapters in RWA, such as Passionate Ink (erotic romance), Beau Monde (Regency romance), FF&P (fantasy and paranormal), and Kiss of Death (mystery and suspense). Nobody is questioning the right of these special interest chapters to restrict contest entries to their specific content area.
What we're questioning is the individual geographical chapters' right to restrict their contests to heterosexual romance entries. To be fair, as far as I know, MTM is the first chapter contest to openly state that they aren't taking same-sex entries. From personal experience, I can say that same-sex entries in chapter contests are often judged unfairly (when I entered a chapter contest, not MTM, several years ago, one judge gave me a score of zero in the hero and plot elements, plus a lecture on her definition of romance, which was limited to a man and a woman. Had her score been thrown out and the others averaged, I would have easily reached the finals of that contest.)
My understanding is that as more writers of same-sex romance are joining RWA and entering these contests, the judging is becoming less biased. I would encourage RWA chapter contests whose members are not comfortable with judging GLBT romance to contact the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter–we've got plenty of members who are willing to serve as judges.
However, aside from the issue of contests, I'm concerned about the broader issue here. I write GLBT romance and erotica. I identify as GLBT. I have been a dues-paying member of RWA for years now. I hesitated in joining my local chapter for exactly this reason: I wasn't sure what their reaction would be when they saw what I wrote, much less who I am.
If I were living in Tulsa, realizing the local chapter of RWA has decided they are "uncomfortable" enough with GLBT romance to completely exclude it from their chapter contest would make me think long and hard about joining that chapter–or, for that matter, joining RWA, because if RWA allows their chapters to discriminate in this manner, what does that say about the organization at the national level?
To writers who identify as GLBT, this is much, much more than a chapter contest. This is personal. This is about a national organization that is happy to accept our dues while allowing its membership to say that our stories are not romances, that our relationships are inferior. I think that's a big problem, one that RWA needs to address.
I hope I'm not adding fuel to the fire. That's not my intention. I don't have any answers. I'm just stating my own individual concerns. Thanks for reading.
EDITED TO ADD: Larissa Ione says on her Twitter feed that she and others volunteered to judge, but "Yeah…was told judges weren't the issue. Members being uncomfortable being contest that allows GLBT is."