Oh Lambda Literary, Clueless Again

The Lambda Literary Foundation has been having a bit of an issue with the eligibility criteria for the awards. A while back they decided they would limit eligibility to authors who self-identified as LGBT. This caused something of a ruckus (see here for some links), and they have now changed their minds again.

I should note here that this is not an easy issue. The UK’s Green Carnation Prize has a similar LGBT-only restriction on authors, and one of the consequences of that is that publishers are refusing to submit books because they don’t want their authors to be publicly identified as queer. See here for an example.

Having said that, what Lambda has done is rather bizarre. They now have a three-pronged policy.

1. All judges must be LGBT-identifed, which I think is fair enough.

2. The main awards are open to all authors, which I’m very pleased about.

3. They have some separate awards specifically for LGBT writers, or rather LG(bt) writers, as follows:

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)

I’m sorry, what is going on here?

First of all, why is one award specifically restricted to “one gay man and one lesbian”, while others are for “male-identified and female-identified” people. At least the latter appears to include some bi people, which the former seems to exclude. As for trans people, apparently they are OK for the first award if they identify as gay or lesbian, but not otherwise, and they are OK for the other two awards is they are male-identified and female-identified, but not otherwise.

My first impression is that this is really sloppy writing. My second impression is that, despite the claim of widespread consultation, Lambda didn’t talk to a single bi or trans person when formulating this policy — or if they did they ignored any objections.

Is it really so hard for someone at Lambda to engage their brain before putting their fingers to the keyboard? Or do they just not care if they offend bi and trans people?

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10 Responses to Oh Lambda Literary, Clueless Again

  1. Roz Kaveney says:

    I’ve written a stroppy letter which addresses some of my concerns…

    ‘I have, as a former judge, to express my serious unhappiness at the new regulations. They completely exclude any authors who are genderqueer, neutrois or intersex, for example, and there is an implicit ageism to the assumptions involved in the attempt to define the stages of a person’s career. (I speak as someone who has returned to poetry in the last two years after a hiatus of thirty-five years and am publishing my first fantasy novel next year at the age of 63). It is also assumed, implicitly, that people come out young – this is still not neccessarily the case. There is a clear tendency here to erase bisexual identity – I am not clear how people who identify as bisexual can satisfy the requirements.

    What, in particular, I fail to understand is how something intended to increase diversity, and failing so signally to do so, was arrived at without some serious consultation of eg the many and various judges from previous years who might have stopped the LLA doing anything quit so unfortunate.’

  2. Cecilia Tan says:

    Actually I think it’s that the individual awards like the Jim Duggans Prize are not actually given by LLF. At least in the case of the Jim Duggans mid-career prize, it’s Jim himself who gives the money for the award, and so he gets to set the definition of who is eligible.

    LLF just administrates the award process for him, something they only just started doing this past year. (Previously the award was given at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival.)

  3. Cecilia Tan says:

    (P.S. And yes, I’m a former LLF award judge as well, myself. I was highly critical of the 2009 change. Being bisexual myself, but partnered longterm with someone of opposite gender, when I was asked to present an award that year, I may have actually snapped at the organizers that I wanted them to be damn sure I was queer enough for the job… In the end I did it, but I’m very glad to see the reversal.)

  4. Rick Bowes says:

    As a Lambda Award winner (Best Gay, Lesbian SF, Fantasy 1999) I was especially proud of having won best novel in the catagory – period. In my opinion the endless mucking about with qualifications cheapens the award and displays a lack of confidence in the writers of the community.

  5. I’ve posted my opinion here: a call to either bring the Berzon Award up to the standard of the others or stop administering it.

  6. Kate Y. says:

    Even if Duggan set the requirements because Duggan funded the award, that in no way lets Lambda Literary off the hook. They could have said “This is counter to our mission; we decline to be involved.” They chose to be involved.

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  8. I think the named awards are like the Campbell–i.e. not a Lambda (or Hugo) although jointly administered. I think there is specific language as to who the awards are to go to in the bequest(s).

  9. Cheryl says:

    Lawrence:

    I think you are right. That’s certainly the way I interpret the noises coming out of Lambda. But they presented these new awards as their means of preserving some form of specific reward for LGBT writers, given that the main awards are now open again. And, as noted above, the awards are not for LGBT writers, they are for LG(bt) writers at best, possibly only for LG writers.

    I also like to think that if Dell Magazines (the sponsors of the Campbell) were to suddenly decide, for example, that their award would only be open to Americans, that WSFS would politely tell them to take their award elsewhere, because it no longer fitted the remit of the Society. As Kate says, Lambda did not need to choose to become involved in awards that exclude parts of their support base.

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