What year is this? LGBT Romance in the Trenches

Yanno, as much as I like to have my fun, it can’t be all dinosaur shifters and hillbilly cowboys so brace yourself — serious post directly ahead.

I am a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and have been for quite some time. The conference I went to in NYC last summer? Was RWA’s National conference. I’m a member (or have been a member) of several RWA chapters. I pay my dues. I vote. I serve on chapter committees. I go to conferences. I take workshops, network with my peers and stay abreast of industry news. If you write romance, I firmly believe that becoming a RWA member is 100% the way to go and will make you a stronger writer. I’ve encouraged many writing peers to join.

With that said, being a M/M romance writer in RWA is not always a bed of roses. There are prejudices and bigotry in segments of the general population of America. It’d be unrealistic and silly to not expect a certain amount of bleedover. While the bulk of RWA members I’ve met and interacted with have had no issues with romance stories about two men (or women) falling in love, I’m afraid some have taken issue with it. Great issue.

RWA defines romance as:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. (Emphasis mine. Full text)

Two individuals. In no respect are those individuals differentiated by gender or sexual orientation. LGBT romances are no less romances than stories with heterosexual couples, according to RWA’s own definition.

And yet some still insist on excluding LGBT romance from general romance categories.

Romance Writers Ink(RWI) is a Tulsa, OK based RWA chapter that sponsors an annual contest, More Than Magic (MTM), for published writers. In recent years, LGBT romances have been accepted as contest entries. Many have scored well in the contest, finaled and even won.

This year, MTM’s rules & regulations were changed to state:

โ€“ Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.

No reason for this change is given.

So…I emailed the contest organizer to ask why this change was enacted. The contest organizer replied that RWI chapter members were “uncomfortable” with accepting same-sex contest entries. “Same-sex was just too much.”

Yeah, you read that right.

Romance is defined by RWA as a love relationship between two individuals, but RWI has unilaterally redefined romance as existing between one man and one woman for MTM.

And at RWA headquarters, no one seems to be willing to do anything about that. Chapters, apparently, are allowed to run their contest as they see fit, limiting contest entries by category and genre as appropriate. The only problem with this response is that LGBT is not considered a category or genre by RWA. If you look at the categories and genres for which RWA’s national awards are separated into for Golden Heart and Rita contests (2011 winners list), you will not find a LGBT category. Because there isn’t one. LGBT stories are entered into GH/Rita in the Paranormal category. Or Historical. Or Romantic Suspense. Whatever category fits the story without regard to the gender or sexual orientation of the protagonists.

And yet, RWA is allowing one of its chapters to make a distinction it does not make itself. RWA is allowing one of its chapters to specifically exclude LGBT entries from romance categories regardless of RWA’s own definition of romance as existing between two individuals rather than two heterosexuals.

If you have a few moments, I ask you that you please consider emailing a note to RWA to ask them to step forward to address this wrong. Romance is defined as occurring between two individuals by RWA. RWA has not excluded LGBT pairings from its own contest categories (Golden Heart, Rita), nor created a specific category for LGBT romances. As such, wholesale exclusion of LGBT romances gives every appearance of discrimination, intolerance and bigotry that, by virtue of its inaction, RWA is tacitly approving & condoning on a corporate level. You may email RWA at info@rwa.org.

If you feel so directed, you might also like to shoot an email to RWI’s MTM contest organizer at jackie.rwimagic@netscape.com.

As an individual, I am one voice. A small voice. Not very important. Easily dismissed and ignored.

Together, we are many voices. I encourage each and every one of you to let your voice be heard. Please join me and other LGBT authors raising awareness about this issue. Email. Tweet about it, using the hashtag #Rom4All (adding #RWA and #LGBT). Share it with friends on Facebook too.

What year is this? Hopefully, it’s the year when the exclusion of LGBT romance from (and by) the wider romance community will no longer be tolerated. Please help us make it happen.

With love & thanks…from the trenches,

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61 Responses to What year is this? LGBT Romance in the Trenches

  1. Cherie Noel says:

    That is appalling. Seriously. And I will be sending a note to both of them.

    • Kari says:

      Thanks, Cherie! And please spread the word. Individually, we are one small voice, but together, our voices are many. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Lisa says:

    Good for you on voicing your opinion. I just don’t understand the way some people think. What’s worse is when they don’t give you an explanation to back it up or when they contradict themselves. I’m not an author but I am definitely an avid reader of LGBT romance. It’s about time certain groups get with the program.

    Great post!

    • Kari says:

      Thanks, Lisa! Though many emails asking why were sent to the contest, I think I was the only one that got a response so at least I did get an answer. Many haven’t. ๐Ÿ™

  3. Cathy Pegau says:

    Thanks for putting this out there, Kari. It’s unreal that this is allowed to happen. The decision to not accept same-sex couples might be legal but it sure as hell isn’t right.

    BTW, I received a response to my email. A two liner about the chapter voting after a month’s discussion but coming to the determination the majority were uncomfortable. Well, I’m “uncomfortable” with their decision.

    • Kari says:

      While unburying my inbox, I saw that Stephanie got a response to, similar to the one you got by the sound of it.

      Re uncomfortable…Y’know, I don’t expect everyone to love what I do. People don’t even have to like it. If they don’t want to read it? That’s fine. That’s 100% their choice and I’m cool with that. There are entire genres I’m not into, no big deal. But if you don’t like LGBT? If even the “majority” of your members don’t like LGBT? That doesn’t give anybody free license to unilaterally redefine romance as they see fit. For pity’s sake, all they had to do is contact RRW (RWA’s LGBT chapter) and I’m sure several of us would’ve volunteered to judge for the contest, if there were a lack.

      The whole things saddens and frustrates me.

      • Maggie says:

        I’m a bit late to the party. I was just catching up on reading. A very well written post, Kari. Bravo. Pat yourself on the back.

        Hopefully my response is as eloquent as yours.

        This is something RWA should address, because if some are “uncomfortable” allowing same sex couple entries for a contest, who’s to say something else that sparks “discomfort” won’t crop up? Such as an Ojibway man (I’ll say this since I’m Ojibway) and African-Canadian woman entry. The contest holder decides this pairing is ineligible because certain people are “uncomfortable” judging the entry. Would RWA give the same answer they provided RRW for same sex couples? Makes me wonder.

        It takes courage to post what you did, and I thank you very much for making this public. Your post brought a lurker (me) out of lurk-mode.

        • Kari says:

          Sorry, Maggie, for some reason, I missed your post! O.O And thanks! Yup, that’s the point, I’ve been making — would it be acceptable for stories with interracial protagonists to be excluded too? And why would any organization hold it as acceptable to risk its chapters (which represent the org) to promote such wanton bigotry?

    • Stacia says:

      I got the same two-sentence response.

  4. You know what makes me mad? They say they recruit judges from all over the world and that they make an effort to get the stories into the hands of the judges most likely to give them favorable reviews. So why can’t they find judges to read GLBT stories?

    Kari, did you notice that your post is linked on their contest page as a pingback? {evil grin}

    • Kari says:

      No, I didn’t know it was on their contest page. I’m an evil wretch, but…That‘s funny.

      As far as I know, no one from RWI contacted anyone at RRW for help judging contest entries their membership wasn’t “comfortable” with. I’m sure some of us would’ve been quite happy to help. We were just never contacted. *shrug*

  5. I’m new to RWA. Got “the call” before joining. I probably won’t renew my RWA membership unless they make this right.

    • Kari says:

      Samantha, please don’t give up on RWA. As I said, I’ve recommended RWA to so many writers. I genuinely think RWA has a lot to offer its members, including its LGBT writing members. It’s a process. I’m very (perhaps foolishly) optimistic that RWA will address this issue, but if RWA doesn’t…Change doesn’t happen because I hope it will. Change doesn’t happen because I wish for it. Change happens because I work for it. I’m a huge fan of change from within — and we need people like you to help. So I hope you won’t let your membership drop. I really do. RWA is an OUTSTANDING org. It truly is. But every org/group can be improved and who better than us to make attitudes about LGBT romance better?


  6. Ray says:

    I am not personally a member of the RWA, but as a reader and writer of M/M romance, I will be sending an email. Their reasoning is bogus. The words ‘ too much’ do nothing to justify the change. Maybe they didn’ t see it this way at the time of sending said response, but it’ s completely prejudice and will turn away some great pieces from great authors. Just had to throw my opinion in the ring. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Katey says:

    I admit that I’ve stayed away from RWA because of things like this — this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and I was thinking giving this organization my money wouldn’t let me sleep at night. But I like what you’re saying in the above comment about change from within. I’m gonna give it a second look.

    Very cool post. Mad props.

    • Kari says:

      Thanks! Sometimes, change from within feels very like beating your head against a brick wall, but the conversation is never going to happen if no one’s there to do the talking, right? Without engagement, there’s no conversation and without the conversation, issues are never addressed or resolved (however painful that experience may be).

      • Katey says:

        Yeah, you’re totally right. It really is you in the trenches, too. I feel like if I’d bought in before I knew about the old, similar issues, I really hope I’d have the strength and awesomeness to do the same. I could just hug you right now. <3

  8. Tali says:

    I’m a member of SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) myself, though I’ll probably be joining RWA soon because that what I’m writing these days: romance. As you’ve noted, one of the problems with organizations is they have deep roots and old definitions based on those roots. It takes a lot of energy and hard work to change things, kind of like turning an aircraft carrier. What will do the most good in changing RWA is exactly what you have recommended: new blood, passionate new writers who lend their voices, and pens, to the argument that romance is still romance no matter the gender. I’ll be e-mailing a note, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Nita Wick says:

    While I agree with you in principle that there should be no discrimination based on the gender of the two individuals involved, I must argue that individual chapters should be able to set their own rules for the contests they sponsor. There are some very good reasons for them to be able to do so.

    1. The judges and contest coordinators are all volunteers. If you volunteer to do something, why shouldn’t you be able to do it they way you prefer?

    2. Forcing chapters to use the same rules used by National in their contests would effectively block thousands of authors from entering. a) National does not accept ebooks. b) National does not accept books published by a publisher who pays on net sales. {Personal experience here. Even though I earn more royalties per book from my publisher who pays me a higher percentage on *net* sales, my book published by them was not eligible for the Rita contest.}

    Allowing chapters to set their own rules for the contest–including genre, publisher, length, and even gender–helps to ensure that more authors have a chance to enter contests.

    Please be careful what you wish for… One size does not fit all.

    • Kari says:

      Hi, Nita! I didn’t ask that all chapter contests hold to the same rules as GH/Rita. I pointed out RWA’s process for handling LGBT entries for GH/Rita to show that by, RWA’s own conduct (on a national level), RWA doesn’t consider LGBT to be a genre/category. RWA’s argument seemed to be that chapters were free to restrict contests by genre/category. LGBT is not a genre/category. Therefore, the argument that excluding LGBT on the basis of genre/category is without merit.

      I realize that contests are manned by volunteers. I’ve volunteered to judge in several contests myself. Being an unpaid volunteer doesn’t give anyone the right to wantonly discriminate, though, and that’s what is happening here. I, nor any LGBT author I know, is looking for or wants one-size-fits-all. We simply do not wish to be flagrantly discriminated against on the basis of the sexual orientation of the characters in our stories. It’s really that simple. Comparing discrimination based on sexual orientation to ebook vs print and net vs gross trivializes the prejudice and bigotry LGBT authors (demonstrably) confront within the wider romance community.

      I would also like to point out that the chapter could have approached RRW (the LGBT chapter of RWA) for help judging the LGBT entries the membership weren’t comfortable with, but that didn’t happen. There are other alternatives that haven’t even been discussed that don’t involve excluding LGBT stories, but that conversation isn’t happening. It can’t happen if alternatives are never even considered, if doors are slammed shut. I, personally, believe there’s a workable solution that doesn’t involve wholesale discrimination, but no one seems remotely willing to entertain the notion.

      • Nita Wick says:

        I do understand and share your view that the discrimination is wrong.

        But asking RWA National to impose restrictions or rules on chapter contests (even to prevent what most of us agree is unfair) is a slippery slope. If National rules “Chapters must accept GLBT entries.” That sets a precedent. Next they can rule, “You cannot accept/refuse menage erotica.” Or, “You cannot accept/reject BDSM.” or even “You cannot accept any entry that does not meet RWA’s definition of eligible novel.” That’s the one that worries me most.

        More and more of the smaller publishers are going to *net* royalty contracts. Despite the fact that most will pay a higher percentage of *net* and thereby allow more of the profits to be shared by the author, RWA is dead-set against it.

        I found 3 smaller contests last year that would accept my book for their contests. Most wouldn’t.

        While I sympathize with you and agree that it is unfair, I do not want RWA National interfering AT ALL with individual chapter contests. Chapters could simply decide, “If we can’t do it our way, we won’t do it all.”

        Honestly, I would prefer that you do as I did. Forget that stupid contest and send your entry fee to contest who does not discriminate you. Support that chapters that support you as an author.

        • Kari says:

          The danger is this sets a precedent that other contests may follow. We may very well find a “NO GAYS” sign posted here, there and everywhere tomorrow.

          The problem with comparing discrimination for sexual orientation (LGBT) with erotica and BDSM is that the discrimination is caused by sexual orientation. It’s homophobia. I really can’t say it more plainly than that.

          Would it be okay for a chapter to exclude multicultural romances because its membership was uncomfortable with stories involving protagonists from different ethnic groups? That is the proper analogy for what is happening here and with that analogy, the answer is still a resounding NO. It’s NOT okay. It’s NOT right. It’s discrimination that should not be allowed, accepted or in any way condoned.

          Chapters should have the freedom to run contests as they wish, yes, but IMO, a basic anti-discrimination policy isn’t unreasonable or egregious.

          • Nita Wick says:

            And you don’t think that perhaps encouraging a boycott of the contest(s) that discriminate wouldn’t be a wiser move? If no one enters, the contest will not be held. Other chapters will not wish to suffer the same public criticism. With public support, you can make a difference without sacrificing the rights of the chapters to conduct contests however they wish.

            Why is it that people believe that government must force equal rights for all? This is free country. If people want to be bigots, they have the right to be. And the rest of us have the right to refuse to associate with them or do business with them.

            It’s the slippery slope. Deny someone else free will by passing a law, and you will inevitably lose at least a portion of your own freedom.

            In my opinion, your passion and desire to change things is commendable. But the call for RWA National to “make a new law” is a kamikaze tactic. You may win, but you (and the rest of us) will lose as well.

            I won’t argue the point with you further. As I’ve said all long, their discrimination is wrong. But honestly, it’s their loss. Not yours.

            • I kind of agree. I think that what Romance Writers Ink is doing is despicable, and I applaud you for speaking out against their obviously homophobic stance and asking others to do the same.

              However, I don’t think RWA should be held responsible, or even asked to interfere. I think a statement by RWA clarifying that the views projected by individual members or chapters do not necessarily reflect those held by RWA would be appropriate. They should announce publicly that they are open and accepting of all types of romance, including same-sex romances, etc.

              But I don’t think they should interfere with the contest itself.

              However, having said all that, I *do* think that all RWA members who find these new contest rules disturbing should say something about it and boycott the contest, and encourage others who feel the same way to do likewise.

              Many chapters restrict the genres they accept (e.g., only contemp, historical, and paranormal, but no romantic suspense), and that is OK. But usually, they just don’t include a category entry for that genre, they don’t explicitly outlaw it… But to specifically ban a type of romance based solely on discrimination (and there is no other explanation), is offensive.

              How would we all feel if they announced that inter-racial romances wouldn’t be accepted?


              Anyway, excellent blog. Besides this one point, I completely agree with you. Thanks for posting and starting this really important dialogue.

              • Kari says:

                Sadly, as much as I’m aware, a position statement from RWA in support of LGBT romances & specifically noting that the actions/behavior of its chapters are not necessarily shared by RWA as an org isn’t on the table. The people I’ve talked to never mentioned it anyway, though I could be (and hopefully am) wrong.

                I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, however, because (although I’ve said it before here and apologize for being repetitive) I don’t think a basic anti-discrimination policy from RWA would be unreasonable or especially egregious. In fact, I think a formal anti-discrimination policy would be beneficial to members/chapters because what is and is not discriminatory would be clarified for everyone. Is X permitted? We’d have an anti-discrimination policy to check. Right now, we can’t check it because RWA doesn’t have one.

                And IMO, allowing chapters to wantonly discriminate against whatever group they please is irresponsible and ultimately the actions/behaviors of chapters reflects on the organization that chapter is associated with. I actively promote RWA to other romance writers (including those who write LGBT), but allowing behavior like this is a black eye against RWA. Makes it difficult to convince other writers of LGBT romance that RWA is welcoming & inclusive when RWA allows individual chapters to discriminate at will.

  10. K. Z. Snow says:

    I never joined RWA. Frankly, I never trusted them. They always struck me as dinosaurish and, well, irrelevant.

    I really wish people would stop throwing their money at this organization and just let it collapse into the pile of dust it deserves to be. GLBT fiction — all romance fic, for that matter — is doing extraordinarily well without it and will continue to thrive. Why beg at their doorstep for “recognition”? How many readers even know or care that RWA exists? I say, piss on ’em.

    • Kari says:

      Hiya, KZ! RWA isn’t for readers. It’s for writers: to network, to learn (workshops, conferences), gather & disseminate market information/news…lots of stuff. Useful stuff. Useful to me, anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Lou Harper says:

    Do they realize how ridiculous they sound. What else do they feel “uncomfortable” about? Interracial couples? It’s exactly the same thing, but they couldn’t get away with that.

    • Kari says:

      LOL, Lou, you took the words out of my mouth. I really don’t know what any of them are thinking. It’s quite beyond my ken.

  13. Dawn Roberto says:

    kari, very well said. I will be sending them both a note on my displeasure of this develoipment.

    So they are ‘uncomfortable’ with GBLT entries? Well then, what else makes them uncomfortable? Pologramy? Menages? Interracial? By their own definition of a romance story, they just basically cut out an entire section of the books out there and that is wrong on so many levels.

    I will be posting this at the LRC Loop to get the word out.

  14. Unbelievable and despicable. I have written to both.

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  18. S.A. Garcia says:

    Thanks for this news. Sounds like the RWA will receive a nice little wake-up call.

  19. cathy brockman says:

    ok s they will take our dues but not le tus submit? this is not fair! discrimination is just wrong!

    • Kari says:

      To be fair, I don’t pay dues to RWI (the chapter doing the contest). I pay dues to RWA (and other chapters within RWA). My issues is that any chapter would be permitted to exclude any contest entries on the basis of that chapter’s membership being uncomfortable with any minority group.

  20. I saw a note elsewhere about this, and have added it to my Facebook page, tweeted it, and am going to continue doing so until this is addressed. I admire your tenacity in dealing with this organization. I have not joined because of RWA’s overall attitude, not only toward LGBT romances, but also toward ebook authors. It wasn’t that long ago we weren’t considered “real” authors. Kindle and Nook changed that. I have never liked being put on the outside of any group, and to pay dues for the privilege of being tolerated is too much to ask. I’ll be watching to see how this goes.

    • Kari says:

      Like I’ve said, RWA isn’t all bad. By far, the majority of members I’ve interacted with have been gracious, professional, and supportive of LGBT romance (and ebooks!).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  21. Krissu says:

    I sent an email :
    The first time I saw ‘It gets better.org’ commercial on TV I was thinking if we really need organisations and commercials like this to stop our children from killing themselves simply because they fall in love with someone from the same sex. And for my shock it appears the answer would be ‘yes’. I am asking from you, and I truly hope I will get a reply from you, how are you any better then One Million Moms who are asking J C Penney to stop working with Ellen Degeneres simply because she happens to love a woman. You have a voice to stop bullying. Instead You choose to sit back and do nothing! All the while children are commiting suicides with an alarming rate.

    I can not believe that at this day and age Your choice is appropriate one. More people need to have access to GLBT literature so they could see that falling in love with another man/woman is not something dirty and sick.
    I really feel that we as a society need more acceptance and less judging.
    Please, rethink your decision!
    Of course I am no writer and Im not trying to be eloquent, but I hope I got my thoughts across

    • Kari says:

      Krissu, the suicide rate of LGBT youth is so…heart-wrenching. On every conceivable level. We tell them to hang in there, to tough it out, that It Gets Better. We have to make a stand: intolerance is not okay. To me, the position that everyone should have the liberty to discriminate is simply absurd. And hurtful.

  22. I have added an entry on my blog and linking other articles on this. Here is also the url to sign the petition against this discrimination at the bottom. So hop over and sign if you are so inclined. And Krissu, I thought you were very eloquent. So many organizations are under attack. Planned Parenthood (see SGK), the Girl Scouts! from churches who won’t let them meet there any more, and now include this. Just when we think it is getting better, something like this pops up to show us how much work is still needed.

  23. CMLooking says:

    I, too, sent an email because I believe the issue is broader than ostracizing same-sex authors. As attitudes become more polarized in this nation, it is easier to target minority groups and those who say nothing fail to recognize, thinkers like these push down one group and look for new ones to target. There is no end to it and we are all at risk, both readers and writers.

    This is my email:

    So what is next? Exclude any topic not in favor with a handful of members from the chapter judging submissions from this year forward?

    This discriminatory action is a red flag for all readers, writers and “mainstream” authors should be protesting along with those targeted since most of the books written under the heading of traditional romance, I have read,ย contain more graphic sex scenes and violence than are written in same-sex romance. There is no way to establish a definition for the standard, “uncomfortable with” so their work may be targeted next.

    Censorship (and that is what this is) remains a slippery slop, because this action won’t be the end of it once thinking like this takes hold. At the very least, if this decision is sanctioned by the RWA board, it is ย going to polarize your group, encouraging membership withdrawals that will diminish its strength and its reputation.

    Many readers, and I am one, won’t be perusing or recommending your annual list, if this discrimination is allowed. In fact, I will actively campaign against your organization. One small group should not be allowed to exclude same-sex books and ostracize writers who are welcomed in your bylaws and by this act, begin to dictate what is acceptable for adults to read by refusing to judge those works.

    Book burners are a dangerous lot.ย 

  24. SueH says:

    Your post has finally inspired me to get off my lazy ass and contact the Romance Writers chapter of the RWA in my state. I’ve been meaning to do it, but with mixed reviews from friends who were published (some like the RWA, some didn’t), I realized I have to make up my mind for myself.

    I emailed my local chapter and asked them about their policies on e-publishing and LGBT books. Hopefully, my local chapter will not be trapped in the 14th century like the one in OK.

    It’s funny, but when I became a teacher, I never joined the union. I thought it was a waste of time and money, as they had no bargaining power in my state. Other teachers thought I was insane and the organization was the only thing protecting me from losing my job. I laughed. My response: “I used to be a member of the Teamsters union. My Teamster’s chapter had Jimmy Hoffa and Jimmy Hoffa Jr. as presidents. I gladly paid dues for that. So why would you think a teacher’s union could put the fear of God into a school system? Please.” *g*

  25. Yvonne Benner says:

    As far as I know this is still America and every one is allowed to voice their opinion but it is not their right to speak for others. If that is how this group feels fine but they sure do not speak for me or others of my book group. If you don’t care for a particular genre, duh don’t read it.

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  27. This is the new message on the contest page.

    “RWI Magic Contests
    After much consideration, RWI regretfully announces the MTM Published Author Contest has been cancelled. All monies received from entrants will be returned as soon as possible. We have heard and understood the issues raised, and will take those concerns into consideration should the chapter elect to hold contests in the future. Please note: our contest coordinator, Jackie, is a chapter member who graciously volunteered to collect entries and sort by category. It is unfortunate that she has become the object of personal ridicule and abuse. We recognize the decision to disallow same-sex entries is highly charged. We also opted not to accept YA entries. We do not condone discrimination against individuals of any sort.”

    Notice not only the retreat but that they do not acknowledge that disallowing same sex entries is discrimination just that it is “highly charged”. What rubbish. And the comments link isn’t working, at least for me. It looks like the ostrich is sticking its head in the sand and hoping the mess will go away.

    I say beat the drum more loudly.

    • Kari says:

      Melania, unless I manage to pull off faking sudden onset of ebola or similar, I’m stuck at work for a little while longer. There have been all kinds of developments in the last 24hrs…As soon as I’m able to staple my brains back into my skull and make it home, I’ll blog an update, I promise.

      Wow. Just WOW.

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  30. I’ve sent off an email. It’s sad and disappointing that they allow themselves to take such a huge backward step with something like this.

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