Posted by James Dawson on April 1, 2014

As you may have seen on Twitter today (1.4.14) I had a nasty surprise in my inbox and I wish it were an April Fool. It’s not.

So, as you know, I LOVE doing school visits and I like to think I’m quite good at them. I have testimonials from librarians in the ‘Contact’ section of my site if you’re interested. I work for First Story and Stonewall visiting secondary schools every week. I think it’s important to state I am more than qualified for the role I went for.

As you can never do too many school visits, I approached an agency that sends authors abroad as well as to UK schools. Within minutes I got this response.

Thanks for getting in touch. I have had a quick look at your web site and although not a  problem from our perspective i am afraid it is a non starter when working with the majority of international schools we work with. The BOYQUEEN reference would be a big NO NO in the UAE and Gulf region in general. Many of the international schools are extremely sensitive and culturally very wary of upsetting any section of their school community – it may not be very forward thinking but that it just the way it is in many international schools

I am afraid we will have to pass on this occasion and wish you all the best with your school visits.

As you know, #BOYQUEEN has been my tag in the run up to this year’s Queen of Teen Prize.

So my reaction went like this: At first I was shocked but not surprised. I’m not sure I’d go to the UAE even if I was offered a trip. It feels morally weird.

Then I wondered if, three years ago when I started writing full-time, I’d made a terrible mistake in being as open as I am. Had I made a terrible career choice?

And finally I thought NO. This is what homophobia does. It makes you doubt your choices, your worth, your existence.

When the dust had settled I realised there was no real reason for this agency to ‘pass’. They could have said ‘we might struggle with the UAE, but we’ll give it a go’ or ‘we’ll focus on Europe’. After talking to some other authors, one wondered if she, a Jewish author, would get the same response given that she wouldn’t be welcome in the UAE either. The more I think about it, the more this was discrimination. It is discrimination. My sexuality is being used as a reason to not give me work.

I’m looking into legal advice. Why? Because the days where I used to keep quiet and keep my head down when bullies said things to me are over. That was five years of school I’m not looking to repeat. That voice in my head is right now saying NO, NO, DON’T MAKE TROUBLE, IT MIGHT AFFECT YOUR CAREER. But if it does, that’s more discrimination and I won’t take that either.

I draw strength from the response on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you to the readers, authors and librarians who agreed this isn’t good enough.

Whereas once I would have crawled under a rock and taken it, I won’t any more. I will be your Gayzilla because I hope my readers, especially those in school can see me NOT TAKING IT ANYMORE. This is another reason I’d like to be Queen of Teen sometime. I will NOT ‘tone it down’ because it makes some small minded people uncomfortable. I’m not doing anything wrong. Nothing. Not a single thing.

I like the books I write, I love my characters and I really love getting out into schools and meeting readers. I hate that, even for a second, I doubted myself.

Once more, for those of you who have always let me be me, thank you.


James xxx

20 replies to “So This Happened”

  • James Nicol Says:

    Give em he’ll! Good for you!

  • Emma Haughton Says:

    It’s an absolute disgrace that the agency has treated you this way, and had the gall to try and justify its position. Hopefully many authors will refuse to work with them in future.

  • Sue Eves Says:

    I’m sharing this – Yes, Yes ,Yes – do make trouble.! You deserve to be heard. You are not alone. x

  • EMoon Says:

    Good for you, and shame on them.

  • Candy Gourlay Says:

    You are right to be angry. Do not doubt. You are in the right on this.

  • Leila Says:

    I agree with you, this is unacceptable. I hope you get some good legal advice and that the agency can be made to see how wrong they are.

  • Anna McQuinn Says:

    So sad when prejudice is dressed up in ‘market and cultural sensitivity’ speak. It’s still prejudice. Be strong.

  • Alison Runham Says:

    The acid test for me is always: is this something you would do differently if you were heterosexual? Would you not mention, for instance, that you had a wide, three kids and a dog called Barney? No, you wouldn’t. The wife, the three kids and Barney the dog (loveable mongrel that he is) would be part of your life and part of who you are.

    The agency should have taken you on and supported you fully. Okay, they can mention that there may be problems ‘selling’ you to some areas. but you should be up there among their other clients, letting the agency show the world that they view all their clients as equal.

    The other thing that really narks me about this kind of response is the cowardice. I’m not gay but I regularly go into verbal battle on behalf of those who are, because it’s part of my genuine belief in equality for all. Everyone should see equality as an issue because it *affects* everyone; but many people stay quiet unless it’s *their* equality that’s being questioned. They’re not prepared to make a stand because it’s easier not to, isn’t it. Anything for a quiet life. They’re all right, Jack; let others who are being attacked do the defending. Why risk being wounded when it’s not ‘their’ fight?

    I’m tempted to ask you to name and shame the agency, because if it’s one used by authors I have an internet friendship with, I can see them getting very cross on your behalf…

  • Tania Says:

    BE the Gayzilla! What is wrong with these people? Good for you! x

  • Anne Says:

    Congratulations on winning the big battle: that of working through your immediate response of self doubt. I’ve been there so often (and don’t always win but there is always another day ) . I hope you are able to challenge the agency in a legal way but more importantly someone there will themselves challenge the person(s) who wrote back to you and go on to challenge if it is agency policy.
    Sorry for long reply. Wishing you all the best and all the support you need in this skirmish.

  • J Kipling Says:

    Wow sometimes you live in a bit of a bubble and forget that organisations and people with these type of small minded views still exist. I think you’re doing the right thing to challenge this. I agree there may be some countries that it would be difficult to work in (as a female I’ve come across this a few times . . . but then I don’t want to share my skills with countries that don’t allow women to have access to education or drive cars so its not a great loss as far as I’m concerned), but to give a blanket ‘No’ based on blatant discrimination is completely unacceptable. Good luck.

  • C.J. Busby Says:

    This is utterly outrageous! The number of schools where they might face resistance are a small proportion of the whole of the world, and no reason not to have you on their books and actively promote you for other more liberal countries. Good luck with fighting this one and don’t doubt that you are RIGHT!

  • Tatum Flynn Says:

    Wow, I can’t believe how badly and insensitively they handled this. And I’m so sorry it made you doubt your choice for even a second. As you say, you probably wouldn’t want to go to the UAE anyway, but there are PLENTY of other non-bigoted countries in the world where I’m sure they arrange visits. Go stomp on them, Gayzilla-style :)

  • Vanessa Harbour Says:

    You are the one in the right, they are wrong. Please keep shouting, someone needs to. I will be sharing this and hopefully many more will do to.

  • Sue Hyams Says:

    This is horrendous. I’m glad you’re taking a stand. Good luck!

  • Hollie Ward Says:

    How dare they?! Who do they think they are? You will have support of every reasonable person with a brain cell – Shout!

    Surely as a agency, part of their job is to find you the right, more receptive audience and can send you where your work will be heard and appreciated?

    Utterly disgraceful.

  • Laura Lam Says:

    That is ridiculous. I’m glad you’re pursuing it because it is discrimination, and frankly ludicrous.

    Please also put Gayzilla in your Twitter profile because that is amazing.

  • Nicky Schmidt Says:

    This is unquestionably discriminatory and you have every right to be angry and, equally, every right to seek redress. Good for you for going for it. I hope you get the justice from the situation which you deserve.

  • Michele Helene Says:

    James, I am so sorry that this, the only word I can think of bleep, turned you down based on erroneous and discriminatory views.

    I work in an international school and the fact that bleep uses the word ‘many’ made me feel sick. How dare he gives you the impression that ‘many’ international schools are as small minded as s/he, not mention the whole nations s/he has tarred. Firstly what does s/he mean by many. I’ve worked in three different schools, all of which offer IB programs run by the International Bacculareate organisation. So when bleep says : ‘it may not be very forward thinking but that it just the way it is in many international schools.’ I beg to differ, because when a school offers the IB program this is what they sign up for:
    The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

    To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

    These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

    Seems quite forward thinking to me, open-minded even, perhaps there’s even a touch of tolerance there, all attributes which bleep seems to be lacking in. And how many is many? Currently 3,740 schools offer one or all of the IB programs.

    All of which makes me think that what bleep meant to say is: I only work in the middle east, because I’m only interested in making money. I wish you the best of luck in this campaign. And if I had access to the schools ‘guest speaker’ budget, I would love to get you over here so that you could see what a marvellously diverse community we are and that not all Middle Eastern people are small minded bigots.

  • Weekly Recap| Mar 30 – Apr 5, 2014 | Oh, the Books! Says:

    [...] James says homophobia sucks: here’s why. [...]

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