Are Literary Agents And Publishers Homophobic?
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on October 14th, 2010

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

October 14, 2010

Are Literary Agents And Publishers Homophobic?


One of the more pleasurable benefits of our work is that we are always learning new things. Sometimes new avenues for learning are pointed out to us, sometimes new avenues appear serendipitously. NPR’s October 7 On the Media segment included an interview with an author who had a manuscript rejected because she refused to make a gay character disappear. The interview drew on an article written by the author in Publishers Weekly that we hunted down and read. And so here we are: a whole new set of questions to ask and research.

Authors Are Told To Make Gay Character Straight

The person interviewed was author Rachel Manija Brown who together with Sherwood Smith wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult (YA) novel, Stranger. The novel has five principal characters, one of whom is gay and has a boyfriend; the most they do in the novel is kiss. The authors went in search of an agent and were surprised. Their Publishers Weekly article relates:

An agent from a major agency, one which [sic] represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

The authors turned the agent down because this is a moral issue for them. They work with teenagers “. . . and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that is not right.”

Are Young Adult Books Keeping LGBT People A Secret?

The article drew a ton of comments. It seems that many other authors experienced similar requests from publishers and agents to eliminate an LGBT character. One author even related that her gay character was taken out without her knowledge. She found out while reading the first pass pages of the manuscript, fought it, and with support of her agent was able to restore the character.

But this exposure to homophobia where we would least expect it, after all, these are books we’re talking about, led us on a search. The YA market is generally defined as people between twelve and twenty years old. The YA fantasy and science fiction market is even more specialized. Are the gatekeepers of this genre preserving the Caucasian, middle-class, vanilla stereotypes? We don’t know, but we will be looking at this hard. Does this homophobia extend to other creative fields? We don’t now that for sure either, but initial readings point toward a yes. One post we read responded to the Publishers Weekly article by stating:

Any gay person working in media or entertainment might wonder what all the fuss is about — the fact that People With Money don’t think they can sell Our Gay Art is simply a fundamental truth of the creative industries we work in.

Malinda Low, a YA novelist, did an analysis and found that for the past ten years LGBT YA novels occupy less than one percent of the total YA market. Yet we found a list of 56 YA novels with LGBT persons as principal characters. Is 56 a large number? How many YA novels are published? How large is the market? How many LGBT young adults are in that market? Are agents and publishers homophobic or are their decisions market driven? Does that make a difference?

Why Are Fictional LGBT Characters Important?

      In the first place, homophobia anywhere is bad. But the ages from twelve to twenty are particularly sensitive, because that is the period when LGBT young people need models the most and need to read that they belong. Rachel Manija Brown said it best: “When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.”

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride


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