Two weeks ago Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the media at Nancy Reagan's funeral, remarked that the Reagans began the conversation on AIDS back in the 80s, "when, before, nobody talked about it." The backlash from the gay media was immediate and furious. Secretary Clinton initially offered a tepid apology before finally presenting an expanded mea culpa.
People make mistakes, and our memories are often peppered with holes of various sizes and shapes which may change over time. The same holds for institutions.
Institutions are organisms like the people who staff them. They have life spans, history and institutional memory which, when the system is working well, live on in spite of changes in personnel. As with people, the goal is to learn from one's mistakes and not repeat them, as there are plenty of new mistakes to be made.
Twelve years ago the Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF), which awards prizes to the best in LGBT writing, fiction and non-fiction, nominated the most scurrilous work of pseudo-scientific transphobic trash ever printed, The Man Who Would be Queen, by Professor J. Michael Bailey. I've written extensively about this book, as have many of my trans colleagues. The publication of the volume by the Institute of Medicine created a backlash and led to the formation of a coalition of activists which managed to get its views known at a time when we were not being heard. Led by Professor Lynn Conway, this formidable group of advocates not only tarnished the book and its supporters, but also forced the removal of the book from consideration by the LLF and derailed the academic career of Dr. Bailey.
There's a quote in Canada's Xtra from April 14, 2004:
Two weeks ago, foundation director Jim Marks acknowledged in an interview with PlanetOut.com that with regards to the question of whether or not the [The Man Who Would Be Queen] was transphobic, "the judges looked at the book more closely and decided it was."
Unfortunately, a form of dementia appeared to have settled on the LLF now in 2016. The current group of judges nominated a book that defends a book that its predecessors had decided was transphobic more than a decade ago.
Today the sycophant in question is Alice Dreger, author of Galileo's Middle Finger. I critiqued this book when it was first published last spring, yet the judges of the LLF seems not to have read either my column or any of the others published in the same time frame. Given the degree of progress made by the trans community in the past decade, this choice of the Dreger book seems all the more spiteful. Or, in the service of not ascribing malice when ignorance or laziness is just as likely, I will accuse the panel of laziness. It is, however, hard to believe that in the context of the Foundation's recognition of the explosive growth in trans-related literature, that such a dubious text could get past their first line of defense.
However - and here is the good news - institutions, like people, can recognize their mistakes, and communities, like the trans community, can mobilize and persuade those in error to rectify their mistakes. It can even be done behind the scenes in a professional manner.
Today, the board of Lambda Literary sent out an email to the coalition of trans advocates and allies who had united in opposition to the Dreger nomination:
After thoughtful, serious, and full consideration, Lambda Literary has rescinded the nomination of Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science from the LGBT Nonfiction category of the 2016 Lammys.
The nomination process did not include full vetting of all works to be certain that each work is consistent with the mission of affirming LGBTQ lives.
Lambda Literary will strive to improve the nomination process and work to maintain the highest standards in the awards nominations, recognizing literature that contributes to the preservation and affirmation of LGBTQ culture, and which honors LGBTQ lives.
Now, that wasn't so hard.
There will, of course, be a backlash. Alice Dreger, with her long-time supporter at the LLF, Victoria Brownworth, and their allies in the trans-hating radical lesbian community (aka the TERFs), will explode. They've had a bad year, with reparative therapy being condemned by everyone from the White House to the Province of Ontario, home of the notorious gender clinic of Dr. Ken Zucker.
There is one important thing to note. While Dreger has every right to write what she wants, and to get it published by finding a publisher that provides no scientific oversight, she has no constitutional right to receive an award.
Lambda, too, recognizes that with the explosion of LGBT categories there are certain areas where an artistic type of individual is simply not qualified to pass judgment on scientific material. We have too much pseudoscience floating around as is; the queer community should create higher standards for itself and set a bar for other institutions.
Thank you, Lambda Literary!