Laura’s note: To frame what Nora discusses here, please refer to this post on All About Romance. The author does an excellent job of laying out the timeline to the current situation.
To clarify: I’m not on Twitter. I haven’t been a member of Romance Writers Of America for several years. Those are both personal and professional decisions.
Even so, it’s been impossible not to be aware of the horrendous situation involving RWA, its leadership and Courtney Milan which, as it escalated, brought to light a long-standing and systemic marginalization of authors of color, of LGBTQ authors, by the organization.
I’m not going to comment on the Milan/RWA situation, but on what–through that–has come to light.
What I write here is my opinion. Some will agree, some won’t, some will be angry, some won’t. That’s how opinions work.
Writer, the middle word in Romance Writers of America, is a word without gender, a word without color or race, a word without sexual orientation, without creed. We’re writers, and as such must expect to be treated, must demand to be treated, fairly and equitably by our professional organization.
What follows is the viewpoint of a long-time member.
I joined RWA in 1980 (wow!). I attended the first conference in 1981 just a couple months after my first book came out. It was wonderful. I met my dearest pal Ruth Langan at that conference, and many others who’ve remained friends all these years.
RWA gave me a community, and though I have never been active in its leadership (nor did I want to be!) I attended every conference save two for decades. The organization was formed to provide support, education, networking opportunities, to stand as advocates for writers, published and unpublished.
I’m grateful for the community, the friendships, the opportunities.
Was the organization perfect? Of course not, but I felt, certainly in those early years, it tried very hard to support, educate, advocate and offer networking opportunities. I didn’t see marginalization–and fully admit I may have been blind to it–until many years in when the leadership crafted a statement defining romance as one man/one woman.
For me anyway, this came out of the blue. Who decided this was our statement? It sure as hell wasn’t mine, and surely we’d all evolved by–what was it–abut 2005.
A great many members were outraged by it–as they should have been. I certainly was, and took the rare for me step of writing a letter expressing same to the editor of the Romance Writers’ Report. We do NOT discriminate. I would not be a part of this kind of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Jesus, it’s fine to have a character fall in love with a freaking vampire, but not someone of the same sex? Bullshit. Just bullshit.
Offensive, bigoted, homophobic bullshit.
I received an email from the then president urging me to be quiet, basically, explaining to me–and I am not kidding–I didn’t understand that the lesbians would take over RWA. Jeez, those terrifying lesbians!
After my brain stopped exploding, I emailed back telling her they could publish my letter–as written–or I would take out a full page ad to publish it.
If memory serves, it appeared as a letter to the editor in the next issue of the RWR.
That was a real crack in the wall for me, and left me disappointed and angry with the organization.
It was during this leadership era I began to see some pretty deep problems within RWA. This same president was in office during the Reno nightmare. I’m not going to go into all that here, just Google it, but I withdrew as MC of the awards banquet and again wrote a long, detailed letter. I think–not sure–this time I did take it as an ad.
I’ll say all of that put longer, wider cracks in the foundation for me. I nearly resigned my membership then, but decided to keep it. I went to conference, but now almost exclusively to be with friends, to see people I only saw once a year, to attend the kick-ass Harlequin party and attend the brilliant Literacy Signing.
But I thought, I believed, with leadership change, the organization was doing better, trying harder. I didn’t see the marginalization, and I regret that. I could have been a voice, and I wasn’t.
For several years our family foundation sponsored the Literacy Signing. Literacy is one of our foundation’s primary goals. My daughter-in-law, the amazing Kat, worked with the committee in charge to help enhance efficiency, and put a lot of her time and effort into it.
The Literacy Signing was the annual conference’s big kick-off, drawing many, many authors who signed their books, publishers who donated those books, many, many readers who bought books–and the proceeds went to Literacy.
This night was a source of pride–RWA was making a difference.
Bookending this week of workshops, hang out at the bar time, meetings, parties, networking was Awards Night. The last night, always a big celebration–published and unpublished. The Golden Heart Awards for the unpublished, the Rita for the published. And the Lifetime Achievement Award to a member who’d earned it.
I received a letter, through Laura, from the Board between the last conference I attended, in San Diego, and the next–can’t remember where it was slated to be held. Wait–Orlando, I think.
They’d voted to change the set up for conference week, and claimed to want my input–though they’d already voted and intended to announce the changes in about 24 hours. The Literacy signing would now be at the end of the conference–on a Saturday afternoon. The RITAs would be in the middle of the week, and the Golden Hearts presented at a lunch.
I get change, I understand change, but I felt–still do–this was stupid. And worse, imo, the Golden Hearts, the unpublished, were being tossed aside. Not right, not fair, not equitable. Why do this? And WHY make the unpublished feel they didn’t really count? The Rita/Golden Heart Banquet was our send off, our night to celebrate each other and the books we write. The Literacy Signing, always held on the evening before the conference officially started, drew huge crowds, and brought in impressive amounts for Literacy.
The unpublished members deserved their night to shine.
As the sponsor of the Literacy Signing, we should have had a little more warning of the decision, but we didn’t.
And in response to my response, it was basically: Done deal. We’ve decided the conference should be more reader-centric rather that author-centric.
And that did it. Romance WRITERS of America, not readers. We love our readers, we value our readers, but this was the professional organization for writers. Published and unpublished.
I resigned my membership. We pulled out as sponsor.
In the time since then and now, I haven’t paid too much attention to what’s going on with RWA or its membership. I’m not especially active on social media, so a lot would go over my head anyway.
This latest issue hasn’t.
Again, I regret all the years I didn’t hear, didn’t see, didn’t listen, remained unaware of all the sad and unfair things that are now coming to light.
I hope that light continues to shine, and by doing so may change RWA for the good, may remind those in leadership positions what the purpose was all those years ago. To support and advocate for romance writers. Not specific kinds of romance writers.
Let me add, as a personal note, that over the course of my life, the course of my career, the couple hundred books I’ve written, I may have–most likely have–said or done or written something that was offensive, racist, homophobic. Without intent–but intent doesn’t mean a damn to those hurt. So I’ll apologize without qualification.
I hope I’ve learned along the way. I intend to continue to learn and do better.