So, I was a wee bit behind on the internet and missed the dust up about the RWI contests. But I'm not going to let that stop me from offering my opinions. (And I may find a way to work in a bit about Planned Parenthood here too. That's right. I swear I came up with that comparison on my own, but apparently, the folks at the New York Daily News have similar brains - are you scared yet? Smart bitches mentioned it too, although a little less directly.)
So, as mentioned here, RWI is an RWA chapter. Most chapters hold contests where you enter part of your book (usually unpubbed is part, pubbed is, all, but it varies). In addition to my local chapter, I belong myself to the Young Adult chapter and have been one of the folks hoping we would get a contest together (if you understand that by hoping I mean suggesting someone should totally do that, nod, nod). I enter contests and here's the thing, it's a crapshoot. I volunteer as a judge too, and have talked to others that enter and sometimes you get great, awesome, really helpful feedback, and sometimes you get stuff that's not. (And, in the case of one fellow writer I talked to, sometimes you spend a lot of time waiting for that feedback you were promised.
YA, in particular, given that it's sort of a newer* sub-category, there are contests that don't allow for it, or contests where the word count requirement is out of step with typical YA guidelines or, in the case of one buddy of mine, contests where the judge you get thinks it's kinds weird your YA is in first person. It's a process. I've only been a RWA member a handful of years, but I'm seeing more and better stuff out there for YA, so it's good. I also volunteer as a judge in one contest that I intentionally don't enter so that I can do my small part to make sure at least one person judging is familiar with the genre.
I've also been a member of RWA just long enough to remember the Rainbow chapter's first RWA (it was my first too!). So, I know that they've been working hard on getting better recognition for their category. So, it's kind of interesting to me that RWI - were you wondering when I'd get back to that? - who in the past had judged same-sex romances, and even had some place, decided to eliminate them this year.
When folks mobilized and emailed them about this, even offering in some cases to judge them, if that was the issue, they said, nope, they were working on behalf of the chapter's decision that they were uncomfortable about having a contest that included same-sex romance.
By the way, the contest has now been cancelled, but they did equate their decision not to judge same-sex romance with their decision not to judge YA. Here's why it's not the same. They weren't removing a category - saying, you know what, our team of volunteers is small, or we couldn't find good final judges, so we'll do four categories instead of five this year - because they didn't actually have a same-sex romance category. These same-sex romances were romances that fell into their other categories - erotic, sensual, paranormal, etc. So, it is a bit more like - as some commenters have pointed out on some of the blog posts - saying that you could enter your romance as long as it didn't involve interracial couples or, to choose a possibly less charged example, couples that were being unfaithful or some other qualification. And, as was pointed out, there was no apparent rule about threesomes or aliens with barbed bits or anything else, so it is hard to avoid the assumption that people were bringing their politics into their romance contest.
Not that long ago the RITA's (RWA's awards for published books) didn't get enough entries for their YA category. You know what they did - they contacted the entrants and said feel free to pick another category. So, in that sense, we can call these things similar, because sure there are YA's that are paranormal or contemporary (I have not seen any YA erotica however).
It has been cancelled, so they'll have some time to ponder what to do for next year. It is one of those sticky wicket things where of course each chapter has to decide to design their contest the way they want, but when your contest is open to the public people are going to talk about it. (In fact, generally, that's a good thing.) But it is sad, given the chronology that it seems like some people were unhappy about previous winners and so tried to make it so books they were uncomfortable with couldn't participate. And I'm sorry, volunteering to judge is a crapshoot too, sometimes you get great entries where you wonder would it be weird to stalk that person and demand they send you the rest (probably) and some you think, oh man, this needed a few more passes before it went out. So, not to beat a poor dead horse, but judging a competition like this, it's work, it's not about the four things you would have paid your own money for.
So, the Komen/Planned Parenthood connection. Well, in case you missed it, the Komen foundation (who's Walk for the Cure I've been doing, well, longer than I've been in RWA actually) had hired someone who was pretty outspokenly pro-life. This is all fine and good (I don't agree, but I accept that not everyone agrees with me). Then the Komen foundation decided not to give grants to organizations under investigation. Seems sensible. Except the grantee this hit was Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood tends to be a target of a lot of folks investigations and you don't have to love them, but they provide a lot of needed health care to folks, including "170,000 clinical breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals". I think we are all in agreement that breast cancer screening is good. So, given that the investigation that Planned Parenthood was under was congressional, and not due to any clear wrongdoing, it seemed there was an issue. Now, the Komen foundation has backtracked, saying that they will amend the policy to indicate that it should only affect criminal investigations and that they will restore the grant funds they had cut off. The Komen foundation swears that this had nothing to do with any new hires or attempts to target Planned Parenthood, but given that Planned Parenthood was the only grantee that they cut off, it's hard to say for sure. I guess, we shall have to wait and see.
*I know, I keep saying that YA isn't new. I stand by that. But as a recognized subcategory in RWA, still kinda new.