Edited 12/27/19: I took the night off and purposely did not go on Twitter to watch the continuance of this train wreck. Instead, I spent several hours with the nuns, nurses, and residents of Poplar (Call the Midwife is still my favorite show - and season 8 is a banger). This morning I had to refill son's ADHD prescription; holidays + end of the month meant that I knew I had a wait, so I brought my NOOK - my low battery NOOK. So I ended up reading new RWA posts from Twitter.
OOOOOHHHHH BOY, HERE WE GO:
Carolyn Jewel has resigned as President and Damon Suede is now President. There are three At-Large Directors left. There are more members leaving, more entrants to the Ritas/GHs wanting to leave the contest, and more smaller leadership members resigning (Brie Quinlain and Jeannie Lin resigned in a joint statement).
The stories coming out now of discrimination against marginalized authors are from the local chapters (which are affliated and approved by RWA), showing the rot is not just at RWA HQ but in the local writing groups as well - again as affliated and approved by RWA. Then there are the stories of how Suede treated individuals and in one case, the RRW (the LGBT+ specific chapter that he was once a part of).
The "new" board wrote a word salad of an open letter to the membership, going on and on about how trust was broken, trust must be rebuilt, we love diversity, blah, blah, blah. As often the case, actions speak louder than words. The new board has decided to appoint remaining members who volunteer to the vacant positions until the yearly elections (July or August 2020), rather than hold new elections....yeah good luck with that.
I'm going to be honest - I'm disappointed Kate McMurray (At-Large director and M/M author) hasn't resigned yet. I hope someone talks to her or she sees the writing on the wall and does so before we ring in the new year. I would hate to delete her books off my eReaders, but I will if she doesn't resign soon.
So when I published my post A List of Cowards, I wanted a handy place to put the list of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Board of Directors names so that I could go through and boycott/eliminate them from my TBR. But it turns out that we only got a small portion of the story Monday night/Tuesday morning. So for clarification and updates, here's the story of how a group of Nice White Ladies (NWLs) destroyed a genre:
In August of 2019, Lisa Ling used private communication methods to talk with Courtney Milan about her feelings about a book Ling was reading. Milan did not disclose the conversation, but she did make her feelings known about the book, Somewhere Lies the Moon by Kathryn Lynn Davis (originally published in 1999, re-issued as an ebook in May 2014). It was problematic for Ling and Milan (both of Chinese-American romance authors) due to racism and other issues. Milan did not call Davis a racist in her tweets; she had problems with the book and her tweets were about the book.
This was at a time when the hashtag #RitasSoWhite was just starting to fade. The hashtag was for the conversation regarding the Ritas/Golden Hearts awards program regarding the slate of finalists, which were overwhelming white, cis, and straight. The Ritas were RWA's big professional award for published authors, the GHs are for unpublished works.This was not the first year the Ritas/GHs have been marked with dubious content; in 2015, Kate Breslin's For As Such a Time As This featured as the main couple a Nazi officer "hero" and a Jewish concentration camp "heroine" was named a finalist. That went over as well as you might expect.
There have been folks dedicated to fixing not only the awards programs but the PAN loop discussion forums and just overall the homophobia, transphobia, the ungodly amount of racism, and other -isms. For a genre that prides itself on being a place where everyone can have a HEA/HFN, the real work of making that a reality for the writers of marginalized communities was Sisphyus-level but there were some change being seen....or that is what the RWA wanted people to see.
In August 2019, Suzanne Tisdale and Kathryn Lynn Davis filed an ethics complaint against Milan. Milan stepped down from her leadership position (she was chair of the Ethics Committee). The current BoD decided to panel a second ethics committee to decided on the complaints since they felt the original committee members were too close to Milan to be impartial....more on that second panel in a minute.
On Monday, December 23rd, Alyssa Cole posted a Twitter thread announcing the Board's decision to censure Milan based on the report from the second ethics committee. Her punishment was to be ban for one year from the RWA and a lifetime ban from any leadership role. Although it was clear from the documents posted that the Board and possibly the second panel did not find the complaints filed by Tisdale and Davis credible AT ALL, but they voted 10-5 (1 abstained) in favor of banning Milan. The RWA then closed for the Christmas holiday. Yep, they dropped the MOAB then just went home to enjoy some nog while Twitter exploded.
By Tuesday, December 24th, someone on the Board decided to try and put out the flames by issuing a temporary suspension on the censure:
"At a meeting today that identified a gap between policy and process, RWA’s Board of Directors rescinded its vote accepting the findings of the Ethics Committee report and the consequent penalties against Courtney Milan pending a legal opinion.
RWA reiterates its support for diversity, inclusivity and equity and its commitment to provide an open environment for all members."
Man, "pending a legal opinion" is doing A LOT of work in this statement, as someone pointed out on Twitter. This is very IRONIC considering the genre is made up of a lot of lawyers and former lawyers, including Milan.
One other thing to point out with RWA's extremely terrible timing, the announcement of Milan's censure on Monday was also the last day for entry into the Rita/GH award program. Authors who want to enter for a chance to win had to submit their manuscript and pay the $50 fee and agree to judge. So when the Milan censure came down, there were a whole lot of authors emailing the RWA asking for their entry to be disqualified/returned to them along with a refund of the fee and oh hell no they were not going to be a judge. Other authors, who learned from previous years not to bother with the Ritas/GHs, were demanding their membership fees be refunded or were vowing not to renew when the time came to do so.
I guess the Board saw the money leaving the organization and tried to staunch the bleeding with the temporary suspension of Milan's ban, but no dice. This on the heels of Cockygate, Feehan's attempt at trying trademark basic paranormal romance terms, the statutory rape book series featured on Frolic that turned into a doxing and harassing mess, the silence from RWA regarding the publisher Dreamspinner Press not paying authors royalties earned for at least a year now, years of #RitasSoWhite - it all came to a head and everyone had a story to tell.
Linda Hilton here on BL shared a small part of her horrible experience with RWA. Other authors from marginalized communities are sharing their stories, not just with Board members but a lot of stories involving RWA "staff" discriminating against members and future members. Olivia Waite filed ethics complaints against another author for discrimination and hate towards her for being LGBT+ but her complaints were seen by the ethics committee or the Board....the paperwork was discarded by a lower level RWA staffer. Piper Huguley was stopped from entering the dining hall where the 2013 awards was held because the "staff member" didn't recognize her as a finalist, even though staff were given pictures of all the finalists. And two Jewish authors told stories this morning of being rejected as members because their manuscripts didn't "meet" the requirements of a romance and was rejected within 24 hours of submitting. Neither author knew of the other's story until this morning.
While stories were being shared and membership were leaving in droves, a certain Executive Board member's husband decided to weigh in on a few stories where his husband was called out for his silence. Geoff Symon, husband of President-Elect Damon Suede (who will take over as president at the end of current president Carolyn Jewel's term), went after a few people who were calling out Suede for his silence not only on the Milan censure but also on the Dreamspinner fiasco. As someone pointed out on Twitter "Damon Suede is the Pete Buttgieg of the RWA" - it might be petty of me, but I laughed hard at that because it is SOOOO TRUEEEEE. (Buttgieg is a mayor running for President on the Democratic party ticket - for all you non-Americans wondering who the fuck he is.) Suede is also the biggest, if not one of the biggest, names on the Dreamspinner roster of authors.
On Thursday, December 26th, members of the Board's At-Large directorship all resigned in mass, so my list of cowards shrunk a ton (good thing, as many of them are in my TBR). This is a big deal, considering the names of those resigned were all AoC and their statement is pretty damning. Then Rachel Grant, now former member of the original ethics committee, resigned as well and then dropped the whole "hey it wasn't our committee, it was this other ethics committee that some of us were not even aware of".....so now we might have a shadowy ethics committee and RWA staff running around trying to MAKE RWA GREAT AGAIN (a point brought up by Army officer and romance author Jessica Scott).
In the time it has taken to write this post, most of the Board has resigned and the membership roles (and the money it rakes in) has dropped. There have been no comment from the Board other than the temporary halt to Milan's ban while awaiting their legal eagle to give them cover. Authors are looking at creating a whole new organization with the expressed mission to be inclusive and diverse; others are looking at joining other writer groups including SFWA, MWA, and NINC. Some authors are returning past Rita awards to the RWA HQ in Houston (Deanna Raybourn for one), while Milan is donating her Rita to the Brown's museum for romance.
This is how you destroy a genre at Christmas.