“Lambda Literary nurtures and advocates for LGBTQ writers, elevating the impact of their words to create community, preserve our legacies, and affirm the value of our stories and our lives.”
This year, Lambda Literary has decided that there will no longer be separate Gay Mystery and Lesbian Mystery categories and there will instead be a single LGBTQ mystery category. Their claim is that they have “expanded the category.” That is absurd since they have, in fact, limited the amount of exposure available to LGBTQ mystery writers. Historically, there have been two winners and between ten and sixteen finalists. Now there will be one winner and five to eight finalists. Simple math tells you they have not expanded the category. In today’s world we need to call their statement what it is: a lie.
If Lambda Literary’s true goal were to increase the amount of exposure available to BTQ mystery writers, they have failed. To increase that exposure, they should have created either one group category for them or separate B, T and Q categories, similar to what they have done in Fiction, Poetry and Non-Fiction. By asking B, T and Q mysteries to compete in a category that will likely start out at sixty-seventy entries actually decreases the amount of exposure they and all LGBTQ mystery writers will get.
Certainly, any award is political, and for that reason should not be given too much credence. The criteria for what makes a “best” book often changes from year to year and from award committee to award committee. Having been a finalist for the Lambda Award eleven times in two different categories, and winning three of those times, I have given the criteria some thought. These are the things a committee may (or may not) consider: literary merit, how well a book fits the genre (both elements in the case of an award like best gay mystery) and, overall career of the writer. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ mystery committee will now, in addition, have to consider the category of the award itself. Have too many lesbian mysteries won in the last few years? Too many gay mysteries? Not enough Q? If there are no Bi mysteries for five years does the first to enter automatically win? Lambda Literary has succeeded in making this award more political and therefore devalued it.
All of this is particularly disheartening at a time when major publishing continues to completely ignore the majority LGBTQ mysteries. I’m currently reading Ann Cleve’s The Long Call which features a gay protagonist. The back cover is full of endorsements from other big mystery writers. Not one of them is a gay mystery writer. The reason for that is that there are no big gay mystery writers. They’re not allowed. The only writers allowed by big publishing to take on gay mystery are people like Ann Cleves and James Patterson—both presumably heterosexual. Clearly, this is not the time for Lambda Literary to diminish the value of LGBTQ mysteries.
Indeed, in looking at their award list it seems that Lambda Literary treats all genre work in this shabby manner – except romance which for some reason is still allowed its separate categories. Certainly, this is justifiable if there are simply too few entries to justify separate categories but as I’ve stated, that is not true of mystery which, I believe, always equals romance in number of entries.
You’ll note that I’ve begun with the Lambda Literary mission statement. A move like this runs completely counter to this statement. It does not nurture nor advocate for LGBTQ mystery writers, it does not elevate the impact of our words, it does not create community—in fact will likely prove to be divisive, or preserve our legacies, nor does it affirm the value of our stories or our lives. For those reasons I will not be submitting to the Lambda Awards this year.