Should You Have to be Gay to Win a Lambda Award?

So the gay literary world is abuzz with the news that the Lambda Literary Foundation has changed its rules of submission so that only those authors who self-identify as GLBT are eligible to be nominated for its Lambda Awards.

In a statement, the foundation said:

We … took into consideration the despair of our own
writers when a heterosexual writer, who has written a fine book about
us, wins a Lambda Award, when one or more of our own LGBT writers may
have as a Finalist a book that may be the only chance in a career at a
Lambda Literary Award.

But rest assured, there won’t be any bedroom-policing:

We take the nomination of any book at face value: if the book is
nominated as LGBT, then the author is self-identifying as part of our
LGBT family of writers, and that is all that is required.

In short, the foundation wants to raise the profile of actual out authors, not just LGBT books themselves.

The Lammies aren’t the first award to make such a requirement. The Coretta Scott King Awards (given to the authors of children’s books) are only open to African American writers.

And the foundation is certainly free to make this move — and
it definitely seems to fit within their mission statement, which says, in part,
they are "dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay,
bisexual and trans people."

But personally? I think it’s a bad idea. Basically, it guarantees
that future Lamdba award nominees and winners are going to end up being
less good.

Philadelphia’s Giovanni’s Room bookstore

How so? By eliminating the sizable number of non-GLBT-written GLBT books, they’ll be fewer submissions (which always affects quality).

Think about this: the reason why books by non-GLBT people are sometimes winning these
awards is because the panels of judges (on which I’ve served) think
they’re the best.

Worse, over time, the fact that the books will be less impressive, less "outstanding," will slowly diminish the clout of the awards themselves. In fact, by even making this announcement, the foundation is communicating to the world that they’re a "restricted" group, marginalizing their own award and further reducing its clout.

In other words, the Lambda Foundation will get their end result: more GLBTpeople will win Lambda Awards. But the price they’ll pay is that the awards themselves will "mean" less and be taken less seriously by the industry and — I’ll say it — even by our own community.

Ironic, isn’t it? But what do they say about the road to hell and good intentions? 

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