An Open Letter to Lambda Literary Foundation Co-Chair Dr. Judith Markowitz

Dear Dr. Markowitz:

I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m the SF/fantasy/horror reviews editor at Publishers Weekly and a past judge of the SF/F/H Lambda Award.

I am equal parts delighted and dismayed by the press release currently being circulated regarding the changes to the Lambda Awards. Delighted, because I was appalled when the 2009 rule change required us to perform bedroom checks on nominees to determine their eligibility, and further distressed when a friend of mine, also a judge, was informed that a good rule of thumb was to check an author’s bio and see whether a different-sex partner was mentioned. This rule of thumb obviously excludes trans, genderqueer, and queer authors who are in different-sex partnerships (many of whom I was pleased to suggest as finalists and winners during my time as a Lammy judge). I withdrew from judging in great part because of these changes, and I’m very pleased to see that the majority of the awards will be open to all authors again.

I am dismayed, however, by this:

“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)”

In other words, non-monosexual debut authors need not apply, and genderqueer and intersex authors as well as those involved in different-sex collaborations are not welcome at any stage of their careers. How can you even think of calling this a new policy of inclusiveness?

I cannot fathom the decision-making process that led to the splitting of these awards along gendered lines, especially since you must be aware of the growing number of queer people who do not identify as gay, lesbian, male, or female. Why not simply state that each award will go to two people a year? Why take such specific and exclusionary steps? Quota systems serve no one, and I say that as an ardent feminist and anti-racist who has long campaigned for more diverse winners and nominees across the spectrum of speculative fiction awards. Enforcing year-by-year equality between two communities while excluding all others only exposes the artificiality of such methods, which have so little to do with who the six most talented and recognition-worthy authors may be in any given year. You may intend these protectionist tactics to keep the awards “safe” from the encroachment of straight authors, but in the process, you’re joining a long and ignominious tradition of queer people who pay lip service to the B and the T while doing everything possible to promote the L and the G.

Saying that only gays and lesbians, and only men and women, are eligible for recognition is really no different from saying that only queer authors are eligible for the awards in general, except that you have made the criteria even more restrictive. You will still need to contend with the deep moral problems that arise from demanding that authors out themselves–in a world that can still be extremely dangerous for overtly queer and trans people, especially people of color, people who don’t conform to gender norms, and people living in repressive and overtly anti-queer cultures–and subscribe to a particular set of definitions. I had hoped for better from the Lammys. I’m very, very disappointed.

I strongly urge you to consider how many talented and worthy authors may be excluded from consideration for these three new awards, and then to update the eligibility criteria to reflect the true breadth and depth of the community you purport to represent and celebrate.

Rose Fox

(cc: awards coordinator pro tem Richard Labonté, The Outer Alliance, my personal and professional blogs)

EDIT: Dr. Markowitz has responded to me, and given me permission to post her response:

The Debut Fiction awards, like any other funded awards, cannot be changed without the full support of the funders. Those discussion are in process but LLF needed to release the guidelines before September 1 so that authors and publishers could begin making nominations.

I am baffled as to why one would invite nominations for an award whose nomination guidelines might be in flux, but at least they’re talking about it.

EDIT 2: Jenn Reese points out that the named awards mentioned above were previously established. My objections stand, but my reference to them as “new awards” is erroneous.

14 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Lambda Literary Foundation Co-Chair Dr. Judith Markowitz

  1. Pingback: Lambda Literary is trans and bi exclusive? « Zoe Whitten’s Blog

  2. Nancy Weber

    If I weren’t Rose’s mother, I might not have read this post, but I am (hurray!), and I did, & I happen to think it’s magnificent. I always imagined–perhaps wrongly–that although Lamda is dedicated to fighting for the rights of certain imperiled groups, it ultimately stands for the right to define oneself. A hallmark of a democracy is that you are what you say you are, and the ID marks you choose, like the ones you’re born with, must never limit your rights or liberties as long as you’re not in the business of limiting someone else’s. Dividing writers into narrow subsets can’t possible do anyone good or have real meaning–other than standing as an artifact of the age of rabid labeling. Tyranny is tyranny, and it’s always the more galling when it comes from folks you think of as being on your side.

  3. Angela Erde

    I’d love to know why intersex people are apparently excluded altogether. We are, after all, the I in LGBTI. Dr. Markowitz?

  4. John V. Keogh

    This is awful. Strange too: SF/fantasy/horror often warns against discrimination. Why can’t Lambda just give awards to the best work and ignore people’s sexuality?

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      The Lambda Awards are GLBT awards. They cover a wide variety of genres, not just SF/F/H.

  5. Pingback: The Outer Alliance » Lambda Guidelines Change Again

  6. [dave]

    Good thoughts, I had similar ones. In response to Dr. Markowitz’s addendum, I would like to suggest that they acknowledge the problematic nature of the categories, at a minimum. Otherwise it really does seem as if they are completely unaware of the diversity of queer gender identities.

  7. Laura


    The genderless/sexless/orientationless folks need to start their own literary awards group. this particular organization is for GLBT people. The rest of the rediculous alphabetical soup of “Everyone but straight men who are not cool” is really way too watery for awards.

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      This is hardly the first time it’s been suggested that LGBT has generally come to mean inclusiveness for all sexual minorities. But even if you consider it to really be limited to L and G and B and T, there’s still a lot of B and T exclusion going on.

  8. Pingback: Out of the Closet, Under the Rug | KV Taylor

  9. maddox

    Yep, those were my thoughts when I first read the requirements. What about transgender, genderqueer or intersex authors? What about bisexuals? And asexuals, and the rest of the spectrum? I don’t see the need for a distinction based on “gender” when meriting books if it’s the content, and diversity, we’re celebrating. The saddest part is that is exclusion comes from an attempt to be more inclusive, from within our own community.

    Thanks for standing up for this and writing to the committee.

  10. Gina Morvay

    I love your letter to LAMBDA. As a trans woman, I’ve never had huge respect for the awards since I feel as if we’ve always been marginalized by them, not to mention they’ve actually bestowed awards to books like “The Man Who Would Be Queen” which is one of the most offensive books ever written about our community. Moreover, I feel some of the queer-ID’d people who are awarding the trans awards have a distinct ‘anti-medical transition’ bias not shared by most in the trans community and are not completely open about their assumptions.

    The fact is though, that people from outside communities have always been allowed to write about certain groups. There have been cisgender gay and lesbian authors writing about trans people for years with little comment by LAMBDA how awarding books in a trans category to people who’ve never lived a trans experience might be problematic. That genderqueer people should be left out of the equation doesn’t surprise me in the least. In fact, get ready to have numerous well-intentioned but ultimately hurtful books about the GQ experience written by people who know relatively little about it. Binary trans people, especially trans women, have been living with that reality for decades.

  11. Stella Omega

    it seems to me from that short answer you received, Rose, that the issue is one of finding sponsors. Prizes are money, after all.

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