This year, the RWA RITA Award nominees include three gay romances. This is a true milestone for LGBTQ romance. (In case you’re wondering, LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.)
In addition to being a Southern Magic member, I am also a member of the Rainbow Romance Writers (RRW), the LGBTQ chapter of RWA. I’ve watched the flurry of RRW discussions each year over whether it’s worth entering the RITAs. Some RRW members joke that it’s like buying a lottery ticket to be part of history. And every year, the board encourages all members to submit, because if you don’t enter, an LGBTQ romance will never be nominated.
And they were right.
Heidi Cullinan’s long contemporary Fever Pitch, Amy Lane’s short historical The Bells of Times Square, and Lynda Aicher’s erotic romance Bonds of Denial, all made the cut this year. True, two years ago Roni Loren’s menage Melt Into You contained one male/male scene amidst its male/female/male menagey goodness. But this year is the first time novels with characters in the LGBTQ community are the main romantic pairing.
LGBTQ books, of course, have their own awards. The Rainbow Awards annually laud the best and most compelling romantic fiction starring LGBTQ characters.
However, there’s something a little wonderful about LGBTQ books being nominated for the RITAs. There’s no LGBTQ category in the RITAs. That means that the judges looked beyond the genders of the characters, beyond their sexual orientation–and saw love.
Romantic love between two human beings.
LGBTQ romantic fiction has been on the rise for several years now. In 2009, the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter was formally accepted by RWA. In 2010, the Rainbow Awards were founded to celebrate LGBTQ romance. By 2011, LGBTQ romance writers started showing up at the RWA national convention. By 2012, RT welcomed LGBTQ romance with open arms and even setup an LGBTQ track in 2014. The Goodreads M/M Romance fan group has swelled from 2500 members in 2011 to more than 17,000 members today.
Many writers believe there is a direct link between books and cultural progress. Ask a science fiction reader about Jules Verne and they’ll tell you he dreamed up rocket ships long before they were built. Or a feminist about Mary Wollstonecraft’s treatise citing the need for women to be educated and respected. Or even Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and how it brought to light the evils of slavery.
Words have an impact. And as LGBTQ romance has become more mainstream, so has acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the wider world. Gay marriage is now legal in 37 of 50 states which means 72% of the population of our country live in states where it is legal to marry a same-sex partner.
As readers read about men and women in LGBTQ relationships, they realize that everyone falls in love, everyone loves…and it becomes a little harder to hold onto bigotry and hate in the face of love and romance.
And that is definitely something to celebrate.