Authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith sent around a manuscript for a young-adult novel to book agents. One of them offered to take on the novel–and perhaps work with them on a whole series–on the condition that they get rid of the gay character:
The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation. …The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.
We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.
LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.
We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed….The conversation made it clear that the agent thought our book would be an easy sale if we just made that change. But it doesn’t matter if the agent rejected the character because of personal feelings or because of assumptions about the market. What matters is that a gay character would be quite literally written out of his own story.
These writers of conscience suggest that readers vote with their dollars and buy young-adult books featuring gay and lesbian characters, thereby showing publishers that such books are in fact needed and bought and enjoyed. I say let’s drive a little traffic to Rachel’s and Sherwood’s websites too. They deserve support for making a career decision that couldn’t have been easy in the cutthroat publishing world.