From Margins to Mainstream: The Ongoing Evolution of LGBTQ+ Publishing
The publishing industry has made significant strides in embracing diverse voices and perspectives, including those of the LGBTQ+ community. However, right-wing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people continue to stop publishers fully embracing this market and reaching a wider audience.
Some publishers remain reluctant to publish children’s books that feature non-binary or transgender characters, or same-sex relationships. They fear these stories may be seen as controversial or politically charged, and that they may face backlash from conservative groups who hold traditional views on gender and sexuality.
I am Jazz
In 2018, a children’s book about a transgender girl named ‘I Am Jazz’ came out. It’s based on the true story of transgender activist Jazz Jennings. Following pressure from conservative groups, libraries in several states in the US removed the book from their shelves.
This sparked a national conversation about the importance of representation and the role of libraries in promoting inclusivity. Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community argued the book provided a much-needed voice for transgender children. They felt it helped raise awareness about the challenges they face.
However, conservative groups insisted the book was inappropriate for children. They claimed it promoted a controversial and harmful message. They insisted ‘I am Jazz’ was part of a larger cultural agenda. One aimed at promoting gender fluidity and undermining traditional gender norms.
At the end of last year, the American Library Association listed ‘I Am Jazz’ as 13th among the top 100 banned and challenged books of the past decade, just above ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
There’s a reluctance on the part of some publishers to market certain books as “LGBTQ+ literature.” They fear by labelling these books as such, they may alienate a conservative readership, limiting potential sales. Instead, they choose to market titles as “General Fiction” or “Contemporary Literature,” in an attempt to make them more appealing to a wider audience.
“Call Me By Your Name” by Andre Aciman – first published in 2007 – is a coming-of-age story that depicts a romantic relationship between two young men. Although now widely considered to be a seminal work in LGBTQ+ literature, Farrar, Straus and Giroux chose to market the title as “General fiction” and not as “LGBTQ+ literature.”
This marketing decision was likely made to avoid upsetting conservative readers. The novel has since gained widespread recognition as an important work in LGBTQ+ literature, and has been adapted into a highly acclaimed film.
The influence of right-wing attitudes on the publishing industry can also be seen in the controversy surrounding JK Rowling’s comments on transgender issues. In 2020, Rowling faced significant backlash from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond for her comments on transgender issues, which many deemed transphobic. The controversy resulted in a significant decline in Rowling’s sales and a tarnishing of her brand.
In June 2020, Rowling’s novel, “Troubled Blood,” (released under her gender-fluid pen name of Robert Galbraith) saw lower-than-expected sales and received negative reviews. Some readers cited her views on transgender issues as the reason for their boycott.
Many retailers and bookstores report a drop in demand for her books, and some have even gone as far as to remove them from their shelves. It is important to note it will take time to determine the full extent of the impact of the author’s comments on her sales. However, it is clear she’s caused a significant division among her fans.
Inclusive and accepting
When publishers are afraid to fully embrace the LGBTQ+ community and their stories, they limit the representation of diverse voices and perspectives in literature. They also miss out on the opportunity to reach a wider audience. And when the balance sheet suffers, the men at the top start to listen. Even those who might vote Republican or Tory.
The publishing industry must continue to push back against right-wing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people. It must work towards creating a more inclusive and accepting literary landscape. This will not only help to promote understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, but it will also help publishers to reach a wider and more diverse audience.
And when sales are up, there’s more money to invest in new voices. Readers benefit. Writers benefit. We all win.