I just came across a worrying post on the EREC blog (http://www.erecsite.com/blog.html - Thursday's entry) regarding new rules introduced by Lambda for their annual writing awards. For anyone who doesn't know, these are probably the biggest, most prestigious awards for writers of glbt fiction; to win is instant kudos and even coming close is pretty special.
In the past, the awards have been open to any author who writes gltb fiction, irrespective of their own identity. Suddenly, this year, they've introduced a new requirement for the works to be judged on, amongst other things, 'the gender orientation/identity of the author'. In other words, all qualifying authors will presumably now need to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered before their work will be considered for a Lambda Award.
Of course, this is their award and they have every right to set their own rules. But for me, it rings several alarm bells.
Firstly, in this day and age of internet handles, pen names and hidden identities, how on earth are the judges going to check the gender and/or sexuality of authors, without being wholly intrusive at best and downright rude at worst? Will authors be expected to sign some sort of affidavit to their sexuality before being considered for an award? Or, as one colleague put it, will writers have to supply a DNA sample to satisfy the judges?
My second concern is that presumably, straight women who write gltb fiction will no longer be considered for the Lambda Awards. If this is the case, then it seems to be saying that only gay authors can write about gay characters. Where does this end? Should black authors only be able to write about black issues? Should women only write about other women, and children about children? Would only convicted thieves and murderers be allowed to write about crime? Or space aliens about outer space? Take this to its furthest limits and it soon gets silly. And who's to say that a straight author can't have insight into gay characters and gay lifestyle? After all, E M Forster managed pretty well with 'Maurice'....
Lastly, I'm concerned on a purely personal basis about shrinking markets. Any glbt anthology editor worth their salt accepts work with one eye on the Lambda Awards; it's only natural to want to be in with a chance of winning something as prestigious as that. But if only gltb authors are eligible, does this mean editors are going to start discouraging, or even banning, straight authors from submitting work to gltb anthologies? I really, really hope not, but it does seem to raise the possibility.