Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Anatomy of a Giant Fuck-Up

There is a Hungarian proverb: "Fejétől bűzlik a hal." In straight translation it means "the fish stinks from its head." This saying is used to describe a situation when a group, organization, firm, etc. is being mismanaged by its leaders, making the whole group look bad.

I believe the above adage describes the Romance Writers Association (RWA) perfectly. RWA is a national organization to help and serve romance writers—but not all of them equally, as it turns out. Chances are you're familiar with the events already, but if not, here is the quick rundown:

Romance Writers Ink (RWI), an Oklahoma chapter of RWA put up the announcement for their yearly More Then Magic annual contest. In their entry rules they stated: "MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category." When directly asked by and RWA member for the reason, the representative stated that they were "uncomfortable" with same-sex entries, “same-sex was just too much.” When asked, RWA national's standpoint was that they didn't get involved in the going-ons of their local chapters.

A sudden and powerful backlash followed as blog posts and tweets jammed the ether, protesting emails filled the mailboxes of RWA and RWI representatives. The fracas reached to the level of national media, and probably not over yet. RWI cancelled their contest, and both they and RWA put up statements proclaiming their innocence. All this in less then a week's time.

I'll be honest, I knew very little about RWA before this ruckus. I debated joining it, solely because their July conference is in my neighborhood. I learned a lot about them in the last week, and I'm not impressed. But let's dissect the events.

1. To me RWI exclusion of same-sex romances is so blatantly prejudiced a blind man could see it. However, I live in Southern California, and have been called a liberal before. Sadly, I'm not surprised that to people in Oklahoma this was not obvious. What I'm surprised about is that the leaders of a supposedly professional organization did not have enough common sense to realize they can't get away with such blatant bigotry at this day and age. It must be different century in Oklahoma.

2. Seriously, can you imagine the contest guideline reading "we no longer accept entries featuring interracial couples?" I'm certain plenty of RWI members feel "uncomfortable" about that too, but even they are not foolish enough to go there. Didn't they realize banning same-sex couples is the same thing in a different shade?

3. RWI allowed same-sex entries to MTM in the past—some of them even won. What on Earth made them decide to take two steps back in time, and lose their professional credibility in the process? The mind boggles.

4. Even more mind-boggling is the stance of RWA—they are the mother ship, they set the direction, it's their job to make sure all local chapters stay on course. Their inability to see and correct RWI's bigotry speaks volumes of their lack of good judgment and professionalism.

5. In the ensuing dust-up many RWA members voiced their disgust, and not only those who write m/m or f/f but plenty of het authors as well. Clearly, RWA's leadership is not representative of their entire membership.

6. It also came out that RWA's reactionary stance is nothing new. They have a long history of bias against GLBTQ fiction, independent publishers, electronic publishing, and progress and change in general. A few years back they even tried—unsuccessfully—to change their bylaws to define romance as something limited to hetero couples.

What this ruckus impressed on me is this: RWA is ridiculously out of touch and on its way to become a fossil unless its leadership gets a serious shake-up. Probably the current management should be chucked out on its ass in its entirety, to be replaced by a new crew* that can steer it into to the twenty-first century. For now, I'll be standing at the sidelines watching.

To learn more about the events, check out these links:

*The author apologizes profusely for mixing her metaphors.


  1. The whole thing is just infuriating - and it says a lot about how far we have to go as a society that they thought this was acceptable... and then canceled their competition instead of changing the rules.

    1. It's a grand example of making a bad situation worse. The big question is whether they learned from it or will just go on business as usual.

  2. Yeah, as a new author I was considering joining RWA. Since this exploded I've decided to put that decision firmly on the back burner. The whole situation has been one bad decision after another.