The Covert Reality of LGBTQ+ Literary Discrimination

by | Craft, Issue #6, Issues

“I can’t remember a time when the publishing industry, like other institutions devoted to the arts … didn’t come down on the side of fashion and power.” — Hilton Als

When my recent short story was accepted for publication, I was delighted. The hard work was over; it was time to celebrate. Or so I thought, until I received an unnerving message from the editor.
“Of Darkness And Doughnuts” is a story about a person wrestling their demons. The narrator is pansexual, and, at one point, experiences a threesome. The scene includes a non-binary person, and a strap-on. However, I structured the scene much like Lucy and Ricky’s love scenes in “I Love Lucy” — the characters embrace, then the scene cuts, leaving the characters in privacy to have their fun without us.
I was puzzled, then, when the journal’s editor asked me to make changes to my story due to their guidelines about explicit content. In searching for a journal for my work, I had reviewed requirements and records for the right fit. As a result, I had been careful to not be explicit. The reader doesn’t even witness clothing being removed, only the pop of a champagne cork setting the mood before the scene cuts away. So, I asked for clarification. The editor admitted they have a conservative readership, and that some of the content might offend those readers.
The issue wasn’t that I implied my main character had sex. It was that I implied my main character had queer sex. I had come face-to-face with the fact that, despite the recent movement to center queer voices in publishing, LGBTQ+ discrimination is still alive and well in the literary world.
I refused their request for edits and prepared to lose the publishing opportunity. After all, I was facing discrimination because of my identity and the representation I included in my story. A week of silence and nail-biting passed before an email appeared in my inbox from the journal’s founder welcoming my piece in its original form. I chose to accept the offer, hoping their ‘conservative audience’ would benefit from a little diversity. And so it was published.
This didn’t feel like a victory. I was left feeling disturbed by the strange, roundabout way the editor asked for edits. How many fellow writers were experiencing such complications? I couldn’t be alone.
I went on a mission seeking stories like my own. I spent a year hunting for writers who had experienced similar discrimination. I first asked my colleagues and friends, then posted in writer’s forums, Facebook groups, Subreddits, Discord channels, Telegram groups, queer community apps like Lex, and more. I checked the posts, watched the ‘views’ counts grow to the thousands, but the resounding response was silence. I was shocked. Was I really alone?
Finally, I cornered a friend and fellow queer writer and requested her experience, since she had complained of discrimination in the past. She responded, “Sometimes I don’t hear back from a publisher, and I wonder if it’s because I’m queer, but there’s no way to know for sure.”  Her testimony mirrored mine — the editor never said my character’s sexuality was unwelcome. It was only implied using the scapegoat of a conservative audience. Neither my friend nor I had any proof that the changes were specific to the queer identities in our work, but we both felt something was wrong.
The silence I was met with in my quest to find LGBTQ+ writers who had experienced discrimination suggested not that discrimination had gone from the literary world, but that it had become so covert that it was difficult to report.
This all comes at a time when countries like the United States are ratcheting back human rights protections for the LGBTQ+ community. A stranger on the internet requesting personal experiences for an article, however vetted or transparent, might have ulterior motives. The devolution of our rights, from reduced (or eradicated) access to medical care to the absurd number of trans people being murdered each year, has created an understandable heightened fear of tracking and targeting.
Amidst this fear comes a new concern: our straight allies are confusing the special attention queer writers are receiving with reverse discrimination. One such experience comes from JM. She saw one of my Facebook posts in a mutual writer’s group, but she initially feared reaching out to me. She worried she would face backlash for her response — she feels discriminated against because she isn’t a queer writer. She told me, “Right now, I’m in the querying phase. In the last year or so, when diversity, at least in America, became a really big hot topic … voices [are] now coming out saying, hey, we need to have more diversity in literature.
And I fully support that. Absolutely…
In the last year since the LGBTQ movement has been a big push, I didn’t get a single agent to contact me, which was strange, because before I’ve always had an agent contact me.”
JM’s claim of reverse discrimination is common when a privileged group experiences minority voices receiving more space — if only a little. The dominant slice of the pie becomes slightly smaller, the minority slice grows by a sliver, and we take a slightly deeper breath amid their complaints. This was the root of the 2003 Supreme Court debate on affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan, and it is the same rhetoric being used against publishers prioritizing queer voices.
LGBTQ+ and BIPOC voices continue to be suppressed and silenced in dominant culture. On the surface, the literary world is attempting to amplify our voices. It doesn’t balance the scales, but it gives us a chance to speak. And we are, with LGBTQ+ book sales increasing by 39% from 2021 to 2022 and topping national bestseller lists.
Mercury Stardust, the “Trans Handy Ma’am,” recently posted a rebuttal on TikTok addressing those who claim the publicity she receives is due to her trans identity (another version of the ‘reverse discrimination’ claim). Sure, she says, some of the opportunities come because she is trans. Members of the queer community often seek each other out because we have greater security when we work together. She goes on to remind viewers that she has previously lost out on thousands of opportunities and risked bodily harm over her lifetime, far more than her straight male counterparts, because of her identity. Mercury’s slice of the pie grew a sliver and she received backlash as a result.
From the outside, it may look like the arts are elevating LGBTQ+ voices. The reality is that the discrimination has become more covert. It’s no longer ‘en vogue’ to openly discriminate against the queer community, but long-held ideologies die hard. It is easy for publishers, editors, agents, and magazines to change the wording on their websites to claim to want LGBTQ+ writers. What I have learned from conducting LGBTQ+ Inclusion workshops, where an average of half the participants don’t even know what the acronym stands for, is that good intentions have a long way to go before they are truly inclusive.
Equity and equality are not about elevating one’s voice over another. They are about all voices being heard and using the tools available to make that a reality. Equity is necessary in a world that has disadvantaged minority voices at every turn. When LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and FLINTA* people can’t access healthcare, books are banned that feature our voices, and we face the threat of bodily harm for just going grocery shopping, any added weight to our voices in the arts far from balances the scales. An acquaintance once said to me, “I want to live in a world where I don’t have to state my identity to be heard.” That is the world we are working toward.
I am thankful that I was able to get my piece published. I am thankful that it was a conservative readership that was shown representation. And I am thankful for the publishers and literary agents who openly state anti-discrimination policies. Their existence is a glimmer of a world that gives us a larger slice of the pie. In reality, the discrimination we face has only become more covert.



Veronica Zora Kirin is a queer Croatian/American writer currently living in Berlin. Kirin is cofounder of Anodyne Magazine, an arts and lit mag featuring FLINTA* health experiences. She is the author of Stories of Elders, documenting the high-tech revolution as lived by the Greatest Generation, which received the National Indie Excellence Award and was a finalist for the International Book Award. Her short stories, poetry, and essays have been published in the New Feather Anthology, Unburied Anthology, Scare Street, Scars, and elsewhere. She is currently working on her debut novel. Read more at