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In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”—from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)
At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.
LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?
Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.
Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.
Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”
We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)
We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.
Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.
The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.
LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?
The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.
LEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?
We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.
Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:
“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family”
Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.
Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:
Since its release, the Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) has become the most visited blog post we have ever produced. The DBS has been widely read and written about, and has opened up a renewed interest in how to improve staff diversity in the publishing industry. In our first piece, Behind the Scenes of Publishing’s First Diversity Baseline Survey, we covered the methodology and obstacles we faced conducting the survey. In this piece we will shed light on what happens next—and what’s already happening to improve the numbers.
We surveyed a handful of the publishers and reviewer journals that participated in the DBS and asked them what initiatives they are planning or already have in place to make diversity a priority in their organizations. Here are some of the responses we received back:
Kiera Parrott, Reviews Director, School Library Journal and Library Journal: Participating in the survey was the first concrete and actionable thing I could do to be part of the solution. Even though I had a fair guess on the demographic makeup of our reviewers (most of them were recruited from ALSC committees, and that group is rather homogenous), I wanted actual numbers. My hope was that the statistics would help me pinpoint exactly where we needed to grow and develop.
The next steps after the survey have been 1) intentionally recruiting more diverse reviewers, and 2) developing diversity/cultural literacy training for our existing reviewers. Sometime in mid-2016, I’m launching a special course just for SLJ reviewers on diversity and cultural literacy. We anticipate this course beginning sometime in late Spring/early Summer.
Editorial note: Kiera also gives a much more detailed report on her progress diversifying her reviewer pool in an interview she gave at the Reading While White blog.
Jason Low, Publisher, Lee & Low Books: While many are aware of our 25-year mission to publish award-winning diverse books, we currently have several other initiatives in place.
To start, since the DBS was all about staff diversity, Lee & Low can firmly state that we practice what we preach. Lee & Low hires diversely and as a result our staff is very diverse. Overall 69% of our staff identifies as people of color (PoC). Departmentally the company breaks down like this: editorial: 50% PoC; marketing/publicity: 75% PoC; sales: 50% PoC; Operations: 100% PoC. We have fluent Spanish speakers in editorial, marketing/publicity, and sales.
Staff Diversity Training: Last year we sent a number of LEE & LOW staff members from different departments to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. We decided to do this workshop because even with LEE & LOW’s focus on diverse books, we felt that our staff would benefit from specific training in anti-racism concepts.
Author Award Contests: We sponsor two author awards for unpublished writers of color. Our New Voices Award is in its 17th year. The New Voices Award has launched the careers of 14 authors of color (with the work of three more authors currently in development), and we have given honor awards to another 11 authors. In 2013, we launched the New Visions Award, an award for unpublished authors of color who write middle grade and young adult novels.
Diversity in Publishing Internship: To address the lack of opportunities for diverse staff in publishing, we converted our paid internship program to one that is for diverse candidates only. Our internship program is designed to give candidates the kind of publishing experience and exposure they would need to consider a career in publishing.
Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship: In partnership with the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, we have established a scholarship to increase diversity at the graduate school level. The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship provides opportunities for students of color to enroll in the most prestigious children’s literature graduate program in the United States.
Angus Killick, Vice President/Associate Publisher, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Monique Patterson, Editorial Director, Romance and Executive Editor, St. Martin’s Press: Macmillan established a Diversity & Inclusion Council this year aimed at promoting a broader representation of differences—gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, gender identity and expression, family status, economic background and status, geographical background, and perspective in the workforce and the books we produce. The Council steers Macmillan’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and 1) determines priorities for programs and activities aimed at enhancing diversity in our books and authors and in our recruitment and retention efforts; 2) oversees sub-committees established to focus on individual priorities; 3) measures the results of our initiatives; and 4) reports back to the larger organization.
We’ve formed a number of sub-committees and each is involved in projects. For example, the Outreach Committee is creating a Publishing Ambassador Kit, so any employee can visit a middle or high school and talk about careers in publishing—not just in editorial, but in marketing, production, finance, IT. The Recruiting and Retention committee worked with We Need Diverse Books to expand our Intern pool this past summer and has expanded recruiting efforts to schools outside the tri-state area. The Acquisition and Marketing Committee is developing strategies for editors and imprints to broaden submissions both from the one-on-one meetings of editors and agents and from outreach to organizations such as the Asian American Writers Workshop or historically black colleges and their writing programs. Also, our Council is looking into participating in events such as the Harlem Book Fair and the LGBTQ Graphic Novels event. We have also reached out to the AAP and Young to Publishing to find ways to expand on what already exists. Macmillan joined other publishers in September in a baseline survey on our workforce and added several questions of its own to measure awareness and attitudes about Diversity and Inclusion.
We are in the early stages of exploring what will increase and sustain diversity in our books, our readership, and our workforce. We have much to learn, but look forward to continuing our efforts.
Vicky Smith, Children’s & Teen Editor, Kirkus Reviews: I’m not sure you can call an intention an initiative, but we are working hard to describe race and ethnicity accurately when we see it in the books that we review, as well as sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. We hope that by including that information in our reviews our readers will be able to make the most responsible purchasing decisions for their homes and libraries. I am also actively recruiting reviewers of diversity (for lack of a better term), who will provide a variety of lenses into the literature.
Paige Mcinerney, Vice President Human Resources, Penguin Random House: Our commitment to fostering diversity is reflected in our day-to-day workplace conduct, as well as by how we continue to find, develop, and publish a wide range of authors from many different cultural backgrounds, across all genres, for diverse audiences of readers everywhere.
At Penguin Random House, we have a robust, paid Internship Program. In recruitment for this program, we actively work with several diversity partners with whom we have longstanding and productive relationships. These include, among others, The Posse Foundation, Prep for Prep, and beginning in 2016, the United Negro College Fund in partnership with the Association of American Publishers. We work with these groups on all internship recruitment and also commit to filling a percentage of our internship openings with qualified candidates from these organizations.
Some of our divisions have employee groups that meet regularly to discuss how to maximize the potential of our diversity-related books, and how to make sure that their division is working toward as much inclusiveness as possible.
This spring, Penguin Young Readers is sponsoring (in a partnership with We Need Diverse Books) a writing contest that will award a publishing contract to a previously unpublished author who self-identifies as a person of color or non-Caucasian.
Karen Lotz, President and Publisher, Candlewick Press: As an independent publisher, we’ve always understood that it’s our authors and illustrators who set us apart. Our roster of creators includes new and established talents from all backgrounds who themselves are committed to ensuring that ALL readers will be able to see themselves and the people they love reflected in the pages of—and on the covers of—the books they read. On the corporate level, from the covers of the Candlewick advertising catalog to our featured titles at conventions and shows, we consistently and consciously make choices to feature characters from many different backgrounds; we choose to illustrate characters of different backgrounds not just in the ‘issues’ books but across the board, to better depict society as a whole. We hope this creates an open and inviting atmosphere where authors and artists from diverse populations will feel welcome to publish. We understand, furthermore, that the economic support and financial offers we make to artists and authors and the quality we invest in producing each and every title are important to attract all authors and artists, certainly including those from diverse backgrounds.
And finally, we are very proud of the recognition our books have come to receive from outside groups, including recent NAACP Image and Honor Awards; Stonewall Awards and Honors; Pura Belpré Awards and Honors; and Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors. We are particularly grateful this year to the Coretta Scott King Committee for their bestowal of the John Steptoe New Talent Award to Ekua Holmes for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, because at Candlewick we really work very hard to try to discover new talent and give brand-new creators of children’s books a graceful and rewarding entry into the world of children’s publishing.
This same commitment to creating a welcoming environment extends to our staffing. In recruiting, we make every effort to reach out to educational institutions and organizations whose goal is to cater to diverse populations. We have a special art resource coordinator on staff whose role is exclusively dedicated to seeking new talent from art schools and programs; she communicates wherever she goes that Candlewick welcomes artists from diverse backgrounds and with diverse interests. Throughout their careers, we support and encourage all of our staff to continue their participation in diversity studies, panels, and educational programs, including the CBC’s diversity program efforts and other local and national opportunities, including WNDB initiatives. We support our authors when they wish to do the same. We also work very closely with First Book and Jumpstart, as well as other literacy organizations whose goals include getting high-quality and appropriately representational books into the hands of all children—regardless of their families’ compositions, backgrounds, or economic situations.
Marina Tristán, Assistant Director, Arte Público Press: We obviously work to promote Latino books and authors, but we also try to promote books by other minority writers and publishers via our social media pages and in conversations with teachers and librarians.
In regard to hiring, we don’t honestly have any initiatives per se in place, but we do have a very diverse staff—mostly Latino/Hispanic—because we feel it’s important to employ a bilingual/bicultural staff.
Learning from the UK
There’s no way for us to predict how the United States publishing industry will tackle the diversity problem and how successful these initiatives will be. But looking at efforts similar to our own is a useful exercise. The DBS has precedence in a publishing diversity study conducted in the United Kingdom in 2014. The United Kingdom study had a scope larger than the DBS. In the UK they surveyed 66 publishing companies of all sizes, 49 literary agencies, and 536 authors. They spoke with authors, publishing professionals, and Human Resources heads. Earlier this year, we wrote about 6 key findings from that study. Recently we reached out to Danuta Kean, one of the planners of the survey, and asked her about the status of their research.
“After the United Kingdom Survey concluded the findings were launched at the London Book Fair with a major press conference that was attended by over 100 people,” Danuta said. “Coverage in the national and trade press was extensive. All the major publishers expressed shock, but feedback among BAME authors and staff was very good: the report was true to their experiences and there was relief that it was being addressed in a hard-hitting manner. It has put diversity on the agenda.
“Spread the Word [the organization which created the study] has now met with HarperCollins and Penguin Random House and is establishing schemes to improve the situation with them. HarperCollins is the best: John Athanasiou, its head of people, has been a driver for change and asked me to present to the main board. He has also established a company-wide diversity forum and had a conference for staff to address issues raised in the report. The diversity firm, Equip, ran a poorly attended workshop at which I spoke. The feedback and enthusiasm was good, but I question the drive to bring about lasting change.
“Goldsmiths University held a diversity in the media day at which I presented our findings. Discussions have been held at three literary festivals, on national and digital radio, and diversity hashtags have been promoted on Twitter—the latest is #diversitydecember. Spread the Word also hosted a training and awareness day for BAME people interested in publishing and writing. More initiatives and meetings are planned for next year, and we raising funding for follow-up research.”
While the time and the scope of the survey did not allow us to document all inclusion initiatives, we encourage publishers, reviewers, and others to add commentary to the comments section below. What is your company or organization doing to address this problem?
On his recent visit to Kenya, President Obama addressed the subject of sexual liberty. At a press conference with the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, he spoke affectingly about the cause of gay rights, likening the plight of homosexuals to the anti-slavery and anti-segregation struggles in the United States.
What have the Romans ever done for us? Ancient Rome is well known for its contribution to the modern world in areas such as sanitation, aqueducts, and roads, but the extent to which it has shaped modern thinking about sexual identity is not nearly so widely recognized.
By now it’s no secret that publishing suffers from a major lack of diversity problem. Thanks to years of research by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, we have ample data to confirm what many readers have always suspected: the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent.
Countless panels, articles, and even conferences have been dedicated to exploring the causes and effects of this lack of diversity. Yet one key piece of the puzzle remained a question mark: diversity among publishing staff. While the lack of diversity among publishing staff was often spoken about, there was very little hard data about who exactly works in publishing.
At the beginning of 2015 we decided to conduct a survey to establish a baseline that would measure the amount of diversity among publishing staff. We believed in the power of hard numbers to illuminate a problem that can otherwise be dismissed or swept under the rug. We felt that having hard numbers released publicly would help publishers take ownership of the problem and increase accountability. We also felt that a baseline was needed to measure whether or not initiatives to increase diversity among publishing staff were actually working.
Our Diversity Baseline Survey took a year to complete. The results include responses from 8 review journals and 34 publishers of all sizes from across North America. Here are the results:
Methodology and Response Rate
The Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) was sent to 1,524 reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees for a total of 13,237 surveys deployed. The response rate was 25.8 percent. This is on par with the average for online surveys and actually a bit higher than the norm, given the sensitive nature of the questions.
In 2015, Publishers Weekly included some staff diversity questions in their annual Salary and Compensation Survey. They deployed their survey to 5,800 subscribers and had a response rate of 7.3 percent. Therefore, the DBS should yield a much more comprehensive picture of diversity in the publishing community.
The DBS was deployed directly from each publisher or review journal. A link was sent to all staff from a member of each publisher’s or reviewer journal’s human resources or executive team, often with an introduction explaining why the company was participating. Some companies even wanted to add additional questions to their surveys. The results provided here are only for questions that appeared in every survey.
The surveys were completely anonymous, and companies did not have direct access to the results. All data was analyzed and aggregated by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and Nicole Catlin of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, to ensure anonymity for individual employees.
Although our response rate was good, we still wonder: who didn’t take the survey, and how might that influence the results? With a survey of this kind, there is most likely some degree of selection bias. In other words, people who self-identify as diverse may have been more likely to take the survey. If that was the case, it would mean that our results portray publishing as more diverse than it actually is.
No voluntary survey can ever be 100 percent accurate, and no survey that asks questions about personal identity can ever be anything but voluntary. Even so, the results of the DBS offer a strong snapshot of the makeup of the publishing industry.
Notes and Analysis: What the Numbers Tell Us
According to the survey, just under 80 percent of publishing staff and review journal staff are white. The rest are comprised of Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (7.2 percent), Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans (5.5 percent), Black/African Americans (3.5 percent), and biracial/multiracial people (2.7 percent). Native Americans (0.5 percent), and Middle Easterners (0.8 percent) of publishing staff.
While all racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented when compared to the general US population, the numbers show that some groups, such as Black/African Americans, are more severely underrepresented. This mirrors trends among children’s book authors. In 2014, just 2 percent of the books tracked by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center were by black authors. Latinos were similarly underrepresented in both places.
Creating the list of ethnicities for a survey such as this was a real challenge. The racial breakdown we offered was based on the US census, with a few adjustments. For our first survey, we felt that this was the best way to break things down because it presented familiar categories that respondents had seen before.
But no list can accurately depict the complexity of this question. Within each category, there are so many different groups, and people self-identify in a wide variety of ways. The census groups White Americans, European Americans, and Middle Eastern Americans together. The census is not quite sure what to do with Latino and Hispanic people, who may or may not identify as white. And it certainly does not know how to handle the differences among Asians, Pacific Islanders, and South Asians.
We received more than 50 write-in comments for this question from people who did not feel that any of the options offered adequately represented them. Some identified as Jewish or European instead of white. Many specified that they were South Asian and didn’t feel that the overall Asian category was specific enough. And several simply called themselves “Human” and wondered why we cared so much about this. One block of data was compromised when the survey link was shared with outside spammers, which made a portion of the surveys ineligible for inclusion. These incidents and answers are all telling because they allude to the wide scope of attitudes toward this issue and how deeply the question of race resonates with people, in both positive and negative ways.
The survey reveals that publishing is about 78.2 percent women or cis-women and 20.6 percent men or cis-men. These numbers may help explain why some feel that children’s book publishing skews toward female readers. Among executive and board member positions this disparity evened out a bit, with approximately 40 percent of executives and board members identifying as men or cis-men. This reflects the reality that males still ascend to positions of power more often, even in female-dominated industries.
The gender question also reveals that about 98.7 percent of publishing staff identify as cis men or women. This means that they identify with the genders they were assigned at birth. How does this compare with the general population? We don’t really know. For many reasons, we don’t have a good count of the percentage of the general population that is transgender. That being said, the small number of transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex, and other gender-fluid people in publishing points to the need for publishers to make sure that books on these topics are being examined for cultural and scientific accuracy by experts before they are published.
According to the survey, about 88.2 percent of publishing staff identify as straight or heterosexual. This may be the category in which publishing is most on par with the general population, though we can’t know for sure.
Beyond the labels we offered, many respondents added their own labels that they felt better represented them. Quite a few identified as “queer.” Others wanted to know why we were asking for such personal information at all. Overall, this question got one of the lowest response rates of the survey, an indication, perhaps, that many people did not feel comfortable sharing this information. We decided to include this question because we wanted to acknowledge this aspect of diversity, and if we didn’t include it, this segment of the workforce would remain uncounted and invisible.
The survey reveals that about 7.6 percent of publishing staff identify as having a disability. We defined disability broadly in the survey, so this does not give us an indication of the types of disabilities that are represented.
One interesting result: when broken down by department, design had a significantly higher average rate of disability (18 percent), followed by book reviewers (12 percent). Perhaps this is because there are more freelance design and reviewer jobs that can be done from home even when mobility is limited. Providing opportunities to people with disabilities may be an underappreciated benefit of creating more freelance positions in publishing.
The DBS results offer the opportunity to filter responses by department, giving a better picture of how diversity breaks out throughout an organization. More than one hundred thirty people wrote in comments for this question, listing departments or sub-departments beyond those listed in the survey. Because the survey was administered to companies ranging from just a few employees to several hundred or more, some departments or roles were left out. The next version of the survey will have an expanded list that is more inclusive to account for some of the staff who had to write in departments this time around.
An interesting result was the high response rate from editorial staff, who made up nearly 20 percent of survey respondents. This compares to less than 10 percent of respondents from marketing/publicity and 13.5 percent from sales. Since these ratios do not seem to match the overall breakdown by departments in publishing, we wonder if staff in some departments, such as editorial, were more likely than others to respond. If so, why? Are editorial staffs more on board with diversity initiatives than staff in other departments?
Here are the numbers:
Board Members and Executive Positions
Without a doubt, board members and those in executive positions make up the highest level of decision makers on the corporate ladder. Board members and executive positions are: 86 percent white, 59 percent cis-women, 89 percent heterosexual, and 96 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Editorial is the next most important department when it comes to the in-house staff closest to generating actual books. Editorial staff is: 82 percent white, 84 percent cis-women, 86 percent heterosexual, and 92 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Marketing and Publicity
These are the departments that promote the books. Staff members in marketing and publicity are: 77 percent white, 84 percent cis-women, 87 percent heterosexual, and 94 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Members of the sales team are the ones out there pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to sell front list and back list titles. Sales people are: 83 percent white, 77 percent cis-women, 90 percent heterosexual, and 94 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Reviewers often have a direct influence on what readers buy. Reviewers are: 89 percent white, 87 percent cis-women, 91 percent heterosexual, and 88 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Does the lack of diverse books closely correlate to the lack of diverse staff? The percentages, while not exact, are proportional to how the majority of books look nowadays—predominately white. Cultural fit would seem to be relevant here. Or at least in publishing’s case, what is at work is the tendency—conscious or unconscious—for executives, editors, marketers, sales people, and reviewers to work with, develop, and recommend books by and about people who are like them.
So, we have our baseline numbers. What are the next moves? In future posts we will discuss initiatives already in place that will hopefully move the needle toward more diversity. We will also look at a similar publishing diversity survey that was conducted in 2014 in the United Kingdom. And we will be working on designing DBS version 2.0, which we hope will include the publishers who either didn’t hear about the survey or opted out the first time.
We also hope that the DBS will lead to more “Diversity 102” conversations about what publishers can do, including improving retention and staff training. How can company cultures be more welcoming for diverse staff? Do diverse staff members feel comfortable voicing their opinions? Are systems in place to make sure all staff are trained and well versed in diversity issues?
Publishing is not alone when it comes to having a lack of diversity problem. All media, including film, television, and theater, are having similar conversations about diversity. It is plain to see that our society as a whole has a problem. We believe we are at a crucial time right now. We all have to decide if the country in which we live is better off if we conduct our lives separately or together. The diversity problem is not the responsibility of diverse people to solve. It is a problem for everyone to solve. Now that the Diversity Baseline Survey is completed, the real work toward changing the status quo begins. It is not going to be easy. Knowing where we stand and establishing a baseline was the first step. Knowing the baseline numbers gives us a way to measure progress going forward, but only our actions can change things for the better.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that over the past few years we’ve released a series of infographics about the diversity gap in different industries including publishing, film, television, theater, and politics. Our infographic studies were designed to give people who were unfamiliar with issues of race and gender a sense of how deep the diversity problem goes in the United States and how entrenched these issues are in every facet of media. Our latest infographic, The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley, is our first study that reports on a bigger question: What comes after the numbers are established? Once we acknowledge the diversity gap, what can we do to close it?
The tech industry presents a unique model for this. After Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou asked, “Where are our numbers?” hundreds of companies, both large and small, chose to release the diversity statistics of their staffs in a transparent way. Although the numbers showed a lack of diversity, after they were revealed there was a flurry of activity across the industry to address the problem. We were encouraged to see the brightest and the best minds in technology confronting a decades-old problem with pragmatism, budgets, and goals.
Given this, we were inspired to create our own baseline survey in the hopes that it could serve as a catalyst for the same kind of movement within the publishing industry. The Diversity Baseline Survey we’ve proposed would be the first of its kind for US publishers. It involves creating statistics that do not yet exist by measuring staff diversity among publishers and review journals in four areas: gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability.
There is precedence for a survey like this, not only from the tech industry, but also from the publishing industry in the United Kingdom. Both industries ran surveys as recently as 2014. Even large publishing houses, such as Hachette UK, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House UK, were among the publishers who participated in the British survey. Hopefully, this is a good sign that these companies might extend their participation to the US version of the survey.
In the past, publishers have usually put the responsibility on readers for the lack of diverse representation in books. The extremely dated adage that “diverse books do not sell” has become a belief that has reached mythical proportions. While it’s important for readers to support diverse books with their dollars and voices, it’s equally important for publishers to self-reflect on how they can do better on their end. We must acknowledge that one factor contributing to the lack of diverse books is the lack of diversity among the people who edit, market, review, and sell the books. Surveying our staffs and reporting on our findings would give us a starting point, not to point fingers or assign blame (especially since most media industries face similar problems) but to bring clarity to the problem so we can understand it better, attempt to correct it, and measure whether or not we are improving.
Publishers, the onus is on us to move forward. Many publishers have said that they support We Need Diverse Books and the movement for more diverse books, but words are not the same as action. If we are serious about increasing the number and quality of diverse books, it is essential for us to be transparent about our own challenges. By surveying our staffs and sharing our numbers, we can work together to put in place sustainable programs that will increase diversity among publishing staffs in the long-term.
Here are some ways you can help:
Sign the petition. We consider transparency in the publishing industry both a social and economic justice cause. If you agree, stand up and be counted. Your name in support of this effort will be used to convince publishers to join this effort.
Place a comment in the comment field of School Library Journal’s article about the survey. Public commentary about this issue from educators, librarians, reviewers, editors, authors, and illustrators helps put a face to this problem. Many of the gatekeepers/decision makers do not understand the problem, but words can make a difference and change people’s minds.
Ask your publishers to sign on. If you are an author or illustrator, contact your editors and other publishing contacts and encourage them to participate in the survey. Your voice in support of this effort can make a difference.
Subscribe to Lee & Low’s blog or social media channels. Understanding the issues is important, but the complexity surrounding issues of race and gender can be daunting. We discuss these issues on a daily basis. Learn through reading and engagement in a safe place to ask questions and stay current on the issues.
The USA has just gained marriage equality in all 50 states! SO happy for the USA and proud of you all, too. Congratulations on marriage equality! This is truly love winning and not hate. We are inching towards #LGBTQ equality! This is a huge step forward, and something to celebrate.
Now we need even more countries to give queer people the right to marry (it shouldn’t be something that has to be given; it should be a basic right) and an end to homophobia and hatred! An end to LGBTQ hate crimes–murder and bullying and rape–and an end to LGBTQ suicide. It’s still a crime in at least 70 countries to be queer. We can’t stop fighting for equality and justice for all. For all LGBTQ people to live in safety and be able to be out and who we are.
Today is a huge mile stone for the US. So happy for you USA! Happy, happy Pride to you all.
So, it’s Pride Day, or whatever you call the day where really major cities hold their Pride celebrations, being the last weekend of June and thus commemeorating the Stonewall Riots. It’s also the day after the Supreme Court of the USA announced it’s a constiutional right for all people regardless of gender and sexuality to get married if they choose, and states can’t deny this. YAY!! In celebration, here’s a book I read for Faye’s LGBT Readathon and really enjoyed!
Title:Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published: February 2012 by Simon and Schuster
Length: 368 pages
Source: borrowed from friend
Summary : Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
Review: 1987. Two very different boys meet and form a friendship. Together they have fun, navigate their teenage years and, learn things about the universe and themselves.
I've had this on my to read list for ages, because it's on many people's lists of brilliant gay teen novels, and it's been hard to find (I don't think it has a UK publisher). Yay for friends who bother buying things off the internet instead!
This is one of those quietly brilliant books. I'm not always into discovering who you are type stories, but I liked this one.
My favourite thing was watching the friendship between Aristotle and Dante grow. It's organic, full of setbacks, but ultimately endures. It's a beautifully close friendship and love, and it just makes you smile for them, because it's the kind that makes you think they're soulmates, and makes it natural for things to progress at the end, but it would be OK even if it didn't because some kinds of bond are so profound they don't need anything else but if there is then that's fine too.
Close second is all the family relationships going on, from the easiness with Dante's father (who is a generally awesome person) to the awkwardness surrounding Aristotle's imprisoned brother.
Then there's the development of Aristotle and Dante, Dante knowong what he wants, Aristotle figuring it out. They learn a lot, they go through a lot with and without each other.
Also, the final feeling the book left me with. It's not loud happiness, like Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, another gay story I got through quickly and loved. In Aristotle and Dante, it's more a quiet kind of contentment, that everything's been resolved, that the future will all work out.
This is all becsuse of the writing (OK, all books are what they are because of writing, but here I want to make a point of it). It's narrated by Aristotle, and we see Dante directly from his letters. We get all of Aristotle's thoughts and questions and emotions and view of the world and it all comes together into a story that feels real and full.
Overall: Strength 5 tea to a tender, gentle story about many forms of love.
I once overheard someone say that Pride Week was a giant party and why wasn’t there a party for them (heterosexuals). It may look like a party—we certainly work hard at celebrating and connecting with friends and loved ones, and at being proud of who we are—but many of us in the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer/Questioning) community have faced homophobia, harassment, hatred, hate violence, and some have even been murdered. It can be a struggle to be who we are in the face of hate and discrimination. It gets even harder when we are isolated or lack support, and especially for teens who may lack community and resources.
Every questioning and LGBTQ teen should have a safe place to explore and grow into their own sexuality, to be able to feel good about it and celebrate it, rather than fear the reaction of their parents, friends, or the world around them.
For some, Pride Week may be the first time they see that they’re not alone; that they see themselves in a positive light without hatred, disgust, or shame; that they can hold their lover’s hand in public without fear of backlash; or that they feel a real sense of safety, community, and belonging.
But LGBTQ Pride Week—one week out of the year—isn’t enough. We all need to see ourselves reflected in popular culture—through books, comics, TV shows, movies, magazines, and ads—to help us know that we’re not alone, that we’re okay as we are, and for LGBTQ people especially to help fight homophobia and embrace who we are. There are some LGBTQ media, but not enough to reflect our real world, and teens in isolated or conservative areas or with homophobic parents or communities may have a hard time finding resources.
Many queer and questioning teens don’t have support around them, don’t have anyone they can talk to, and books may be their first or only way to find someone—a character—like them. I think we need many more LGBTQ books, and especially lesbian and trans books (I’ve found there are usually more gay-focused than lesbian books available). Books where the teen characters are simply LGBTQ, and the story line is about another issue (which helps normalize us), as well as more YA LGBTQ romance. Books that I hope any reader will want to pick up, regardless of their sexuality. Hey, I read books with both heterosexual and LGBTQ characters all the time; I don’t discriminate based on sexuality. I just enjoy a good book.
I make sure to have LGBTQ characters in all the books I write, whether they are the main character or secondary characters. It’s important to me. As a queer teen, I struggled to find lesbian characters in books, movies, and TV where the lesbians didn’t kill themselves or end up unhappy. I found very few—only one teen book that had a lesbian character that I can remember—Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden. This has changed over the years; there are more LGBTQ YA books now, but there still aren’t enough, and in so many books even LGBTQ background characters are mysteriously missing. I have been delighted to see more and more heterosexual writers bring LGBTQ characters into their books. I hope someday soon we’ll see a greater number of books reflecting the world we live in, with characters who are LGBTQ, and of different cultures and races, disabilities and abilities, mental health issues, and everything that makes up all of us.
Books give hope. I desperately needed books that reflected my experiences as a queer abused teen; they helped me survive. And books can save lives. And I know that from the many reader letters I’ve received; many tell me that after reading one of my books it’s the first time they talked to someone about being queer, or abused, or even that my book kept them from killing themselves. If you are or know someone who is part of the LGBTQ community, I hope you’ll buy, read, or give some YA LGBTQ books.
Like many, I’m still digesting the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—not just its text, but its personal and social significance. When I wrote Debating Same-Sex Marriage with Maggie Gallagher (Oxford University Press, 2012), only a handful of states permitted same-sex couples to marry. In the three years since, that handful grew to dozens; last Friday’s decision grows it to all 50. One striking thing about the decision itself is the importance of the definitional question: What is marriage?
One striking thing about the decision itself is the importance of the definitional question: What is marriage?
If the state prohibits same-sex couples from marrying, does it thereby interfere with their liberty, as the majority argues, or does it simply decline to grant them certain benefits? If the latter, is it treating them unequally—and thus violating the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment—by privileging certain citizens without sufficient reason for the distinction? The answer depends on what marriage is. If marriage by definition requires (at least) one man and one woman, then same-sex “marriage” is impossible by definition, and one does not treat people unfairly by denying them something impossible.
During the decades of debates over marriage equality in the United States, opponents centered much of their advocacy on the purported need to maintain marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution in order to promote the well-being of children. It was therefore fascinating to see the well-being of children play a crucial role in the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Obergefell v. Hodges, albeit not in the way opponents of marriage equality hoped.
Summary : Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…
Review: David, seen by everyone as a boy, really a girl, is continually teased and misunderstood by everyone bar his best friends, from parents to bullies. Leo is the new guy, with rumours about why he left his old school running around, and he just wants to be invisible. They become friends after Leo sticks up for David, and they
I enjoyed watching the friendship between David and Leo, the ups and downs and the things they tell eachother. Both narrations are well fleshed out, and so are most of the side characters. My favourites were probably Alicia, Essie, and Felix, who are all great in their own way and who I want to befriends with.
I enjoyed the represntation of trans people here. I loved the fact that we see a trans character who has already undergone some of the transition process, and that being trans is not the only facet of their being, they have siblings, families, friends, and romantic issues to navigate too. I also liked the way we saw how gender expectations also influenced the trans characters’ perceptions of themselves, such as David’s despair at his growth spurt, defying his hopes to be small and feminine, because of the expectations society sets for women.
I really appreciated the look at life as a queer child in a modern, less tolerant environment. I’m really lucky to live in a very tolerant school where our trans community, as far as I know, are treated with respect by both staff and students, and there’s no physical bullying. I know nationwide figures for bullying, but like with many things, it all becomes more real, more important, if you’re reading a more fleshed out story, be it fact or fiction, than just looking at statistics.
I found it weird that Leo continues to call David David and he when he’s learn David’s chosen name. I don’t know if that’s internalised cisnormativity or something. I just noticed and wondered why he of all people would continue with that. It changes by the end though. Eh, I don’t know.
I really liked the look at complex family relationships. Leo’s quest to find his father. David’s continual hiding and eventual coming out. The support given and not given to each child. It varies, and feeds into each character.
Emotions were had when reading this. Sadness for the environment that allows the continued bullying. Sadness and happiness when Leo and Alicia get together. Happiness and pride for David when coming out. Pure happiness at the Christmas ball they put up and how happy David.
Overall: Strength 4 tea to an eyeopening story about friendship, family, and being transgender today.
Same-sex marriage is having a moment. The accelerating legalization of same-sex marriage at the state level since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 United States v. Windsor decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, has truly been astonishing. Who is not dumbstruck by the spectacle of legal same-sex marriages performed in a state such as Utah, which criminalized same-sex sexual behavior until 2003? The historical whiplash is dizzying.
Daily headlines announcing the latest changes to the legal landscape of same-sex marriage are feeding public curiosity about the history of such unions, and several of the books that top the “Gay & Lesbian History” bestsellers lists focus on same-sex marriage. However, they tend to focus on the immediate antecedents for today’s legal decisions, rather than the historical roots of the issue.
At first consideration, it may seem anachronistic to describe a same-sex union from the early nineteenth century as a “marriage,” but this is the language that several who knew Charity Bryant (1777-1851) and Sylvia Drake (1784-1868) used at the time. As a young boy growing up in western Vermont during the antebellum era, Hiram Harvey Hurlburt Jr. paid a visit to a tailor shop run by the two women to order a suit of clothes made. Noticing something unusual about the women, Hurlburt asked around town and “heard it mentioned as if Miss Bryant and Miss Drake were married to each other.” Looking back from the vantage of old age, Hurlburt chose to include their story in a handwritten memoir he left to his descendants. Like homespun suits, the women were a relic of frontier Vermont, which was receding swiftly into the distance as the twentieth century surged forward. Once upon a time, Hurlburt recalled for his relatives, two women of unusual character could be known around town as a married couple.
There were many who agreed with Hurlburt. Charity Bryant’s sister-in-law, Sarah Snell Bryant, mother to the beloved antebellum poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant, wrote to the women “I consider you both one as man and wife are one.” The poet himself described his Aunt Sylvia as a “fond wife” to her “husband,” his Aunt Charity. And Charity called Sylvia her “helpmeet,” using one of the most common synonyms for wife in early America.
The evidence that Charity and Sylvia possessed a public reputation as a married couple in their small Vermont town, and among the members of their family, goes a long way to constituting evidence that their union should be labeled as a same-sex marriage and seen as a precedent for today’s struggle. In the legal landscape of the early nineteenth century, “common law” marriages could be verified based on two conditions: a couple’s public reputation as being married, and their sharing of a common residence. Charity and Sylvia fit both those criteria. After they met in the spring of 1807, while Charity was paying a visit to Sylvia’s hometown of Weybridge, Vermont, Charity decided to rent a room in town and invited Sylvia to come live with her. The two commenced their lives together on 3 July 1807, a date that the women regarded as their anniversary forever after. The following year they built their own cottage, initially a twelve-by-twelve foot room, which they moved into on the last day of 1808. They lived there together for the rest of their days, until Charity’s death in 1851 from heart disease. Sylvia lasted another eight years in the cottage, before moving into her older brother’s house for the final years of her life.
The grave of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake. Photo by Rachel Hope Cleves. Do not use without permission.
Of course, Charity and Sylvia did not fit one very important criterion for marriage, common-law or statutory: that the union be established between a man and a woman. But then, their transgression of this requirement likened their union to other transgressive marriages of the age: those between couples where one or both spouses were already married, or where one or both spouses were beneath the age of consent at the formation of the union, or where one spouse was legally enslaved. In each of these latter circumstances, courts called on to pass judgment over questions of inheritance or the division of property sometimes recognized the validity of marriages even where the spouses could not legally be married according to statute. Since Charity and Sylvia never argued over property in life, and since their inheritors did not challenge the terms of the women’s wills which split their common property between their families, the courts never had a reason to rule on the legality of the women’s marriage. Ultimately, the question of whether their union constituted a legal marriage in its time cannot be resolved.
Regardless, it is vital that the history of marriage include relationships socially understood to be marriages as well as those relationships that fit the legal definition. Although the legality of same-sex marriage has been the subject of focused attention in the past decade (and the past year especially), we cannot forget that marriage exists first and foremost as a social fact. To limit the definition of marriage entirely to those who fit within its statutory terms would, for example, exclude two and a half centuries of enslaved Americans from the history of marriage. It would confuse law’s prescriptive powers with a description of reality, and give statute even more power than its oversized claims.
Awareness of how hard-fought the last decade’s legalization battle has been makes it difficult to believe that during the early national era two same-sex partners could really and truly be married. However, a close look at Charity and Sylvia’s story compells us to re-examine our beliefs. History is not a progress narrative, we all know. What’s only just become possible now may have also been possible at points in the past. Historians of the early American republic might want to ask why Charity and Sylvia’s marriage was possible in the first decades of the nineteenth century, whether it would have been so forty years later or forty years before, and what their marriage can tell us about the possibilities for sexual revolution and women’s independence in the years following the Revolution. For historians of any age, Charity and Sylvia’s story is a reminder of the unexpected openings and foreclosures that make the past so much more interesting than our assumptions.
Summer blockbuster season is in full swing. For many moviegoers, that means escaping to a galaxy far, far away—or perhaps just a different version of our own planet Earth—through science fiction and fantasy movies. As fans clamor for the latest cinematic thrills, we decided to focus our next Diversity Gap study on the level of racial and gender representation in these ever-popular genres that consistently rake in the big bucks for movie studios. We reviewed the top 100 domestic grossing sci-fi and fantasy films as reported by Box Office Mojo. The results were staggeringly disappointing, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we analyzed multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity.
The Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films infographic (click for larger image)
Among the top 100 domestic grossing films through 2014:
• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color • of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin) • 0% of protagonists are women of color • 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ • 1% of protagonists are people with a disability
The following interviews with two prominent entertainment equality advocacy groups shed more light on the subject.
Marissa Lee is co-founder of Racebending.com, an international grassroots organization of media consumers who support entertainment equality. Racebending.com advocates for underrepresented groups in entertainment media and is dedicated to furthering equal opportunities in Hollywood and beyond.
Imran Siddiquee is Director of Communications at the Representation Project, which is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change. The Representation project was the follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary Miss Representation.
Jason Low: Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?
Marissa Lee: The statistics are certainly striking, especially since sci-fi and fantasy belong to a genre that prides itself on creativity and imagination. These statistics aren’t necessarily surprising, since lack of diversity in Hollywood films is a well-known problem. There have been enough studies and articles, and any moviegoer can pause to notice there is a disparity. . . . Hollywood can’t go on pretending that this isn’t a problem.
JL: Do you think the American movie-going audience would support a big, blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy movie with a diverse protagonist if a studio made it?
Imran Siddiquee: Yes, definitely. But I think an important thing to understand about Hollywood blockbusters is that they are almost never flukes; they are preordained. Sure, we have the occasional surprise indie hit, but you need a lot of money and marketing behind you to become a blockbuster. Just look at the top ten films in each of the last five years: nearly every single one had a budget of more than $100 million (a lot of them were also sci-fi/fantasy films).
Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a single film released this year starring a person of color with a budget of more than $50 million, let alone a sci-fi film, which is naturally going to be more expensive. The same goes for most of the last decade. So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” or “there’s no evidence that this would work,” the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.
Studios take a couple of massively expensive chances every year on mostly unknown actors or directors—aka giving the Spider-Man franchise to Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield in 2012—but they just don’t take those kinds of chances on people of color. In other words, if Hollywood wanted to make a blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film starring a woman of color, they definitely could.
ML: I think American audiences would support a film with a diverse protagonist, because we already have. One pullout statistic from your infographic is that Will Smith leads six of the top 100 big sci-fi/fantasy films. His race wasn’t a huge impediment to box office success and may have, in fact, been part of what made him all-American and relatable. That was back in the late 1990s, but since then, Hollywood hasn’t tried to find a new Will Smith. This is kind of ironic, given that Hollywood likes to stick to formulas and sequels! They could push forward another actor—or actress—of color with Smith’s charisma. They haven’t.
The American movie audience supports any movie that Hollywood successfully markets well, especially—but not always—if the film is well produced. Hollywood has managed to market some weird stuff, like a tentpole movie about talking teenage turtle martial artists, or cars that change into space robots, and so on. I don’t buy that when it comes to marketing diverse leads, suddenly this giant industry can’t do it.
I’d be interested in seeing how many of these top 100 grossing sci-fi and fantasy films star non-human leads. I wonder if there are more films with non-human leads than minority human leads on the list!
(Side note: Does the infographic count Keanu Reeves as white or as a person of color? I think he has more than one movie on this list given The Matrix trilogy…)
Editorial note: Yes, Keanu Reeves is counted as a PoC and did make the list for The Matrix. The second Matrix film, The Matrix Reloaded was the only installment of the trilogy to make the top 100 list.
JL: What challenges have you faced or seen peers facing as a woman/person of color, etc.?
ML: There are films with built-in audiences that Hollywood still insists on whitewashing, which has a very adverse effect on actors of color. Let’s be honest, audiences would have still flocked to see The Hunger Games or Twilight if characters like Katniss or Jacob had been cast with people of color as they were written in the books. An actor with a disability could have played the protagonist in Avatar—if we have the technology and imagination to animate a fanciful world populated by blue cat people, we could have cast an actor with a disability similar to the lead character’s in that role. As a result of these casting decisions, up and coming actors from underrepresented groups were deprived of career exposure from being a part of these established franchises, making it harder for Hollywood ever to try and launch a new franchise with an actor from an underrepresented group.
Every single Marvel Studios movie has centered around a presumably straight, white, male protagonist, even if white women (mostly love interests) and men of color (support roles) have played roles in the film. The franchise is a box office juggernaut and has a ton of movies on this list, but we’ve gotten two to three movies about each of the men on the Avengers and there’s yet to be a film about Black Widow. Both of Marvel’s ensemble films—The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—trimmed down the superhero teams for their film adaptations, and the women characters, save for one, were the first to be cut. Most moviegoers will never know that women of color and LGBTQ characters were cut from Guardians of the Galaxy, but audiences will get to relate to the talking raccoon and the talking tree.
More recently, the Divergent franchise cast Naomi Watts to play a character who was a woman of color in the books. It’s a supporting role for an already established franchise, and for whatever reason the production still couldn’t bring themselves to cast an actor of color.
Trends that fans have noted in the media include that in big blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films, the presence of a straight, white, able-bodied, cis male in some central role in the story is almost guaranteed, while the presence of characters with “minority” identities (e.g. LGBTQ folks, people of color, people with disabilities, women, etc.) is not. Even when a character who isn’t a straight, white cis male is centered in a story, there’s probably a straight, white, cis male character playing second, if not lead, billing. For example, while we can reasonably assume that the next few Star Trek and Star Wars movies will have some diverse characters, we can guarantee that at least one of the leads will be a straight, white man. If The Hunger Games or Twilight had cast actors of color for Katniss or Jacob, there would still have been plenty of lead roles filled by white actors. DC is including Wonder Woman in an upcoming movie, but the film will also feature Batman and Superman.
This means that someone with a lot of intersecting privileged identities (especially straight, white men) will always be able to walk into a multiplex and find a sci-fi/fantasy movie starring someone who shares those identities. If you have a lot of marginalized identities, then representation is a sometimes thing, never a solid guarantee. There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits. But there are just as many, if not more, people who are willing to support, vociferously, films with diverse leads. I wish our money was as good as theirs.
JL: How can consumers encourage more diversity in movies?
IS: Avoid buying tickets to films which clearly rely on stereotypes or demeaning portrayals of people based on gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance. And anytime you do watch a film, give it The Representation Test afterward. The test grades films on their inclusiveness pertaining to all those above categories. When a movie scores really low on the test, use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to let the filmmakers and all your friends know how you feel. Since so much of this industry is based on money, this is one way we can express our discontent and get the attention of the studios.
ML: Media literacy is a huge start. As media consumers, we should feel empowered to critique the media we consume, and to decide what media we choose to consume. Beyond helpful steps like going to see movies that feature diverse leads, it’s just as important to start conversations in our own communities and with our friends and family (the people we consume media with!) to raise awareness about diversity and representation. Even if we don’t go to see movies that whitewash or exclude or present discriminatory content, people we know will. One way we can help change things is by continuing to start conversations. We need to create an environment where it is safe to criticize popular franchises for lacking diversity. We also need to keep drowning out the malcontents who cannot even handle actors of diverse backgrounds in supporting roles. Social media has really knocked down barriers when it comes to communicating our opinions with Hollywood brass. It’s also given us several spaces where we can discuss the media we consume with our friends and family. In addition, the internet has really changed how we access and consume media. There are Kickstarters and indie channels and online comics and other outlets so we don’t have to be reliant on big production studios or publishers as our only sources of entertainment.
JL: How close or far do you think we are from getting these statistics to change?
IS: When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up. For instance, 0% for women of color in top sci-fi films means I’m being honest when I say things will certainly improve soon, but that’s not saying much. I think we are pretty far away from true equality, or a cinema that reflects and includes the broad diversity of human experiences in the real world.
Too many wealthy, white men still run Hollywood, and their decisions still have too much power. As I mentioned earlier, these kinds of movies are very expensive, and so it’s hard for independent or upstart filmmakers to break through or compete.
That being said, the slight increase in success for white women in blockbuster sci-fi movies, such as Gravity, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, means change is possible. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Oscar wins for 12 Years a Slave last year, because while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it is a film that everyone in the industry now knows about and has probably seen. And the whole reason we’re even talking about representation in movies right now is because we know how much seeing different experiences on screen can impact people’s real world thoughts and attitudes. So films like 12 Years a Slave are part of the gradual shifting of consciousness that has to happen in Hollywood to get to a point where studios are consistently greenlighting big-budget films starring people of color.
ML: As budgets for tentpole science fiction and fantasy movies have soared, studios have been more reluctant to take a chance on actors or characters that they perceive as risks. Because people of color and women are also already more likely to consume movies than white people and men, maybe they don’t feel an incentive to change what they are doing because, from their perspective, minorities are perfectly willing to watch films starring white guys. Hollywood is pretty stubborn, especially when it comes to tentpole movies. We are seeing more diversity in television, particularly in children’s television, as well as in online content. The establishment will change when someone influential in Hollywood decides to take the risk and make an effort to diversify their film offerings. The stats in this infographic are focused on profit, not art. For things to change, Hollywood needs to believe that diversity can be profitable.
This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching societal problem.
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When I was invited by the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco to participate in its month-long program “The LGBT Journey,” I was a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I’ve been teaching “Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.” since 2002, and my enthusiasm for the subject grows every time the course is offered. It’s a passion shared by my students. They never sigh and say, “Gay and lesbian history again?”
But what to present in only forty-five minutes? My most recent scholarship examines lesbian alternative environments in the 1970s and 1980s. In the end, though, I decided to make a larger point. For many people, LGBTQ American history begins with the Stonewall Riots in 1969, so I determined to use this opportunity to talk about the history of same-sex desire that is as old as this nation.
To briefly develop that fascinating history, I touch on some of the sodomy trials in the colonial period, in which communities were surprisingly tolerant of men who were well known for seeking sexual contact with other men. I note women in early America who passed as men, often marrying other women, and develop the difficulty in determining if these were lesbians — or simply women who had no other way to earn a living wage, vote, walk the streets unescorted, and enjoy independence and autonomy. Those same questions also apply to the Boston Marriages that began forming in the late 1800s. Professional women (many of whom graduated from the new, elite women’s colleges in the Boston area) entered into lifelong partnerships with other women. Certainly, some were lesbian. But, like passing as a man, being with a person of the same sex is what allowed a woman to have a career, to travel, to enjoy all the independence that came with not being a subservient wife.
Boston Marriages and same-sex intimate friendships became less socially acceptable with increasing public awareness of same-sex desires. The “medicalization” of those desires began in 1870s and 80s, with the term “homosexual” coming into being around 1892. Same-sex sexual behavior acquired a name — and was defined as deviant. Arrests of men begin to increase. And with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, homosexuality became unpatriotic and un-American. As Kevin Murphy develops in Political Manhood, in 1907 Roosevelt warned Harvard undergraduates against becoming “too fastidious, too sensitive to take part in the rough, hurly-burly of the actual work of the world.” He cautioned that “the weakling and coward are out of place in a strong and free community.” The “mollycoddle” Roosevelt warned against was sufficiently similar to emerging definitions of the male homosexual that the two were often conflated, and used to marginalize and stigmatize certain men as weak, cowardly, sissy, and potentially disloyal.
Environmentalists, denounced as being anti-progress, were ridiculed as “short haired women and long haired men.” John Muir, for example, was lampooned as both effeminate and impotent. He was depicted in drag on the front page of the San Francisco Call in 1909 for his efforts to sweep back the waters flooding Hetch Hetchy Valley.
John Muir lampooned for being effeminate in a San Francisco Call cartoon from December 13, 1909. Public domain via the Library of Congress.
Gay men and lesbians operated under a variety of burdens: religious, legal, medical, economic, and social. So how did we get to Stonewall and beyond? Out of changes wrought by World War II and the Cold War came a number of early organizations and challenges to homophobia.
In 1957 it occurred to psychologist Evelyn Hooker that all of the big medical studies on the pathology of the homosexual were based on gay men hospitalized for depression. Her report, “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual” demonstrated that, despite pervasive homophobia, most self-identified homosexuals were no worse in social adjustment than the general population. Her work was an important step towards the American Psychiatric Association’s decision in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its list of illnesses.
Frank Kameny was a World War II combat veteran who earned his PhD in astronomy at Harvard in 1956. In the middle of the Cold War and the nascent space race, astronomers were at a premium. Kameny, however, was terminated from his position in the US army map service when his arrest on a lewd conduct charge was uncovered. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1961, but lost. As John D’Emilio notes in Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, Kameny urged his gay brothers and sisters in 1964 to quit debating whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture: “I do not see the NAACP and CORE worrying about which chromosome and gene produced a black skin, or about the possibility of bleaching the Negro [as the solution to racism]. I do not see any great interest on the part of the B’nai B’rith Anti-defamation League in the possibility of solving problems of anti-Semitism by converting Jews to Christians . . . We are interested in obtaining rights for our respective minorities as Negroes, as Jews, and as Homosexuals. Why we are Negroes, Jews, or Homosexuals is totally irrelevant, and whether we can be changed to Whites, Christians, or Heterosexuals is equally irrelevant . . . I take the stand that not only is homosexuality. . . not immoral, but that homosexual acts engaged in by consenting adults are moral, in a positive and real sense, and are right, good, and desirable, both for the individual participants and for the society in which they live.” In 1965 Kameny organized the picketing of the White House to protest homophobia in the government.
Clearly, queer American history did not begin with the Stonewall Riots. It’s a history of oppression that spans several centuries, but also an inspiring story of people fighting for equal rights and acceptance for all Americans.
Summary : Former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed YA author James Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it's like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people 'across the spectrum', this inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know - from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes, how to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell's hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text make this a must-have read.
Review: I don't normally review nonfiction, but this is a hugely anticipated book by a brilliant author and a topic I have an interest in. There’s so many things that make this book wonderful.
First, there’s the fact that this book exists, with a bright rainbow cover and direct information and not hiding. I can only think of one other sex-ed book that addresses queer people as well as cishet people, and that's Scarleteen's book, which I read once in a library but it later disappeared. The fact there's a book that speaks directly to a group of people ignored by almost every school when it comes to sex-ed, is brilliant, and I hope this book finds its way into the hands of everyone who needs it.
Then here's the breadth of topics covered; labels and common definitions, biological theories, stereotypes, coming out, dating, sex, marriage, and children, as well as more serious, less happy topics, such as religious opposition, homophobia, transphobia, HIV/AIDS.
James gives clear advice that hopefully will be hopeful to people of all genders and sexualities about how to combat homo&transphobia, coming out, and many other things.
I love the range of voices from the online survey, especially the longer studies, that talk about experiences such as living with HIV, transitioning, and having children via surrogate mothers. They give a snapshot into many different lives, and, after reading about things like this in fiction, it's fascinating to see real-life perspectives.
My favourite thing is James's voice tying it all together. I read the book straight after James did a reading from this book, and it's so easy to imagine him reading it aloud. There's a lot of laughs in appropriate places, highlights including "a very bad lady-let's...call her Maggie....some years later [there was] a slightly less evil man let's call him Tony", "what I felt for Dean Cain (whose name I did not change for this book- I mean, I think it's time he knew of my love", and (in the first edition) bullet points 2 and 3 on page 45.
Now, this is going to sound really picky, but I did notice that it sometimes reinforces the gender binary (yes, I'm aware one of my contributions does too, and I apologise for younger, less informed me and cis-centric language) and uses ciscentric language when talking about sex (e.g. a label of a woman being accompanied by a diagram of a female-bodied person, or the words "gay women get turned on by vaginas" (here not taking into account e.g. gay women with preop transwomen). I do get that it is impossible to cover the full range of identities in one book, and my noticing this is probably a result of me getting used to sites where gender and sex are strictly separated, and this book is wonderful in its existence, but still, a couple of word changes here and there could make this book absolutely perfect.
Overall: Strength 5, tea to a book that needs to be everywhere.
Today is Mix It Up At Lunch Day, an annual day started by Teaching Tolerance over a decade ago to encourage kindness and reduce prejudice in schools by encouraging students to sit and have lunch with someone new, one day out of the year. Teaching Tolerance offers some great resources to help schools celebrate Mix It Up At Lunch Day, and we thought we’d add our own list of recommended books that encourage kindness, giving, bravery and open-mindedness!
Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving written by John Frank and illustrated by London Ladd- A collection of poems showing the many ways individuals can make differences.
Antonio’s Card written by Rigoberto González and illustrated by Cecilia Álvarez – Antonio’s classmates make fun of Leslie, Antonio’s mother’s partner because of her paint-spattered overalls. Antonio decides to make a card for his mother and her partner.
First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch – Abaani, a Maasai boy, sees a Kikuyu boy, Haki, tending a new fruit and vegetable stall alongside the road and they take an immediate dislike to each other. A short while later, a dangerous situation arises near Haki’s stall and Abaani and Haki must overcome their differences and work together.
King for a Day written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Christiane Krömer – Malik wants to become the king of the kite festival, Basant. Using his kite Falcon, Malik becomes the king of Basant! When he sees a bully take a kite from a girl, Malik uses Falcon to give her a nice surprise.
Grandfather Counts written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zheng – Gong Gong, Helen’s grandfather who only speaks Chinese, moves in with her family. Helen is worried about not being able to speak to him. She hears him counting train cars in Chinese, and she reciprocates by showing him how to count in English.
Sam and the Lucky Money written by Karen Chinn and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu – Sam receives lucky money–red envelopes called leisees (lay-sees), from his grandparents that he can spend any way he wants. When he doesn’t have enough money to buy what he wants, Sam instead decides to give his money to a homeless man.
Birthday in the Barrio written by Mayra Lazara Dole and illustrated by Tonel – Chavi’s friend Rosario wants to have a quinceñera (sweet 15), but her family can’t afford it. Chavi gathers people in the barrio (neighborhood) and throws Rosario a birthday party in the community center.
Brothers in Hope written by Mary Williams and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie – When eight-year-old Garang’s village in southern Sudan is destroyed, he walks thousands of miles with many other boys to seek safety. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts.
Destiny’s Gift written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by Adjoa J. Burrowes – Destiny’s favorite place to be is Mrs. Wade’s bookstore; she helps out every Saturday. When Mrs. Wade tells Destiny she has to close the bookstore, Destiny organizes her community to protest.
Passage to Freedom written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee – Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania, helped thousands of Jewish people escape the Holocaust by giving them visas to Japan.
Goldfish and Chrysanthemums written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Michelle Chang – Nancy’s grandmother, Ni Ni, finds out that her childhood home in China is being torn down. After winning two goldfish at the fair, Nancy keeps Ni Ni’s memories of her garden alive by recreating it in their backyard.
Irena’s Jars of Secrets written by Marcia Vaughan and illustrated by Ron Mazellan – Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker, witnesses the injustices committed against Jewish people in Warsaw during WWII. First, she smuggles things they need into the Warsaw ghetto, and then, using false documents, she smuggles Jewish children out of the ghetto. She keeps jars with their information, hoping to reunite them with their families.
Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsey Lewin – Every April, the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland become home to hundreds of thousands of puffins, small black-and-white seabirds with colorful bills. When the young puffins, called pufflings, are ready to make their way into the sea, they’re helped by the Puffling Patrol, children who help guide the pufflings to the ocean.
Rent Party Jazz by written William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Rent day is coming, and Sonny’s mama has lost her job. Sonny isn’t sure what to do, but a jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack hosts a party to help Sonny and his mama raise money for their rent.
Aani and the Tree Huggers written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto – While Aani sits under her favorite tree, she hears men coming in to cut down the trees, despite protest from the women in the village. When the men return to cut the trees, Aani hugs a tree to prevent them from cutting it down, and the rest of the people in her village follow suit, saving the forest.
For more information about Mix It Up at Lunch Day and how to participate, click here!
In the late 1990s, I attended a conference focused on “those who identify at the male end of the gender spectrum.” At the end of the conference, organizers asked each participant to fill out an exit poll, intended to capture demographic information about conference attendees. In addition to the usual geographic/age-related questions, organizers asked about gender identity, and included a checkbox for every term they had ever heard used as a self-descriptor by members of this community. The list included: transdike, transdyke, transexion, transsexual, transgender, transie, transindividual, transmale, translesbigay, transnatural, transman, transguy, tranz-fag, trannyfag, MTM (man to male), FTM, trannyboy, tranzboy, boi, transboi, tranzsissy, transsissy, sissyboi, transmasculine, dragboi, transperson, transhuman, transqueer. And below these check boxes was a box that said, “Other,” and a line to write in a term.
Despite its length, the above list is not fully inclusive; people are always adding to it. This is a population of people trying to morph English in ways that allow them to describe their experience of gender to others. If English is your first language, you grew up in a culture that recognizes two genders, male and female, believing them to be fixed reality and determined at birth. “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” are often the first words an emerging infant hears upon being born. Yet, this statement isn’t always true; sometimes, that baby grows up defying that birth pronouncement, revisiting that gender assignment.
With only two words to choose from, man or woman, boy or girl, those who re-examine gender find themselves bumping up against the limitations of English. How can two words begin to capture the experience of the complex social process we call gender? Those redefining gender for themselves expand the lexicon far beyond two words, such that it becomes clear there is no consensus at all on terminology. For instance, some happily call themselves transsexual, noting they did change the sex of their body and this feels the most descriptive to them; others recoil in horror at the idea, exclaiming, “How can you use that term, it’s so medical model and pathologizing!”
Note how many of the above terms include the prefix trans. In the interest of pragmatic inclusivity, the shorthand term trans has become part of the community lexicon. A newer term still is trans*, reinforcing the idea that there are multiple possible endings to follow trans. Even there, consensus isn’t possible. Some view trans and trans* as two different populations of people – trans is viewed as the umbrella term for those who undertake some form of physical transition, while those who are trans* are in a middle-ground of gender that doesn’t pursue physical body modification. Others view trans as a fluid, deliberately-vague term that stands on its own, much like the term queer; the term trans* makes more clear that there are multiple identities under consideration, that one should then ask, “What does your * stand for?”
The ever-changing lexicon of gender identity
When a community lacks consensus on its own terminology, it becomes difficult for allies to understand just what terminology is acceptable and what isn’t. What about words that have historically been used in a pejorative sense, such as tranny? A rule of thumb applies to all such words (queer among gay/lesbian people, nigger among African-Americans) — if an ally is asking, “Can I use that word, really?” then the word is not fully reclaimed yet, and should be avoided by allies. It still retains vestiges of its former negative connotation. If it were fully reclaimed, its former negative connotation would be forgotten, as if it were a new word being invented and used for the first time. An ally would not then wonder, “Can I use that word, really?”
Trans is not a reclaimed word; it is invented terminology without the baggage of historically-pejorative words such as tranny. As such, it is fine for an ally to use the word trans, in any context. But, that’s just my interpretation of the emerging trans lexicon; ask another trans person, and you may get a completely different opinion. The important thing for allies to remember is, none of us is right, or wrong, none of us has ownership over the vocabulary of our people. Respectful intention is what makes an ally an ally; precise use of vocabulary isn’t possible in the ever-changing lexicon of gender identity.
I love reading YA books; they’re my favorite–and I love writing them, too. (Smiling) So much emotion and tension, strong-girl characters (and strong boys, too) who I root for, no boring bits or long passages of description that stop the story, so often characters overcoming great odds or fighting for what is right or learning something important about themselves and other people, and novels tackling issues that others aren’t talking about. YA books feed my soul–and they helped me survive when I was a teen being abused. So I’m happy #IReadYa week is here! (See @thisisteen on Instagram for more info.)
I’ve been on a YA fantasy binge for a while. Some of my most recent favorites are:
Unremembered by Jessica Brody,
The Body Electric by Beth Revis,
Elusion by Claudia Gable & Cheryl Klam,
Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay,
and The Taking by Kimberly Derting–all of which I highly recommend.
I’m looking forward to reading lesbian YA novels:
The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi
and If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. And I love Julie Anne Peters’ novels, and so many other #LGBTQ novels.
And I always recommend realistic YA fiction by Ellen Hopkins, Jennifer Brown, April Henry, Laura Wiess, Jo Knowles, Gail Giles, and many more. Discover the fantastic books out there waiting for you!