Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blocked By VOYA Magazine

When I was younger, my mom taught me that when someone was bothering you, it was important to make it clear that you'd like that behaviour to stop. If it didn't, then it was best to disengage and interact with that person as little as possible. Starting fights doesn't often solve anything.

I've followed that ideal for most of my life. So when the initial mess with VOYA came up, I, like others, made my displeasure clear, offered criticism, and then watched as they stubbornly refused to change or take responsibility for wrongdoings. VOYA Magazine stooped so low as to block and gaslight those offering criticism, respond to industry professionals with sarcasm and rudeness, as well as respond to attempts to help them with insults.

Normally, I'd follow my mother's advice and walk away, but I can't this time. Not when a magazine that claims to be the "Voice of Youth Advocates" turns around and spits on not only their audience, but those they claim to "advocate" for.

If you haven't heard of the madness, it all began when VOYA Magazine published a review of Kody Keplinger's RUN (which they've since deleted), in which they claim the book should be for mature junior and high school readers due to a bisexual main character and swearing. The main issue, of course, being the implication that the mere existence of a bisexual character warrants a "warning." The real problem is best outlined by the author herself:

Nowhere in the review does it mention the straight sex. What makes the book mature was the mere fact that Bo expressed that she liked girls as well as boys. 

Tristina Wright (@TristinaWright) sent an email to VOYA after reading the review, and the following response from VOYA staff sent the internet into a frenzy.

The whole exchange makes me cringe hard. Of course, people make mistakes, right? Nothing a simple apology wouldn't fix. But the event only spiraled from there. 

Emails and tweets piled up from various writers, bloggers, publicists, publishers, agents, editors, basically everyone and their grandmother, expressing that this was not okay. The biphobic comment was awful, but VOYA's blatant disrespect towards one of their readers was inexcusable. Naturally, people wanted an apology. Instead of giving one, VOYA Magazine decided it was better to just block people and try to sweep the matter under the rug. 

An email response from VOYA. Deflect, deflect, deflect. 
The rage flames grew higher, and rightly so. Among other offenses, VOYA misgendered someone and continued to do so after being told to stop. 

They responded to valid concerns and criticisms, and offers of help with sarcasm and rudeness. 

Lied about apologizing to Tristina for insulting her and her child. 

They claimed that genderqueer is simply "twitter lingo." 

Naturally, this PR catastrophe bothered a lot of people in the community and there was a lot of blowback. After all, this kind of ignorance and bigotry is not accepted and cannot be allowed to run unchecked. So, VOYA released first a half-assed, victim-blaming apology: 

"The LGBTQ Community has taken offense" is the polite way of saying "The LGBTQ Community is forcing us to say this but frankly we've done nothing wrong." Surprisingly, this didn't go over well with the community (it's like they think we're stupid or something), and so VOYA released a longer, more eloquent, victim blaming apology: 

You'll notice VOYA now blames the community for not stepping forward sooner. The biphobic comment was noticed, by many, including the author herself and her publisher. But for them to speak out on the issue would have been seen as a major taboo (as the golden rule for authors involves never responding to a review). The fact that all this came out during BiWeek had less to do with us "searching to destroy our enemies in a public forum" (as VOYA has accused), and more to do with the fact that people were actively seeking out reviews about books with bisexual characters. An advocate looking to celebrate BiWeek came across the problematic review, and it was the magazine's horrible behaviour that blew the backlash to epic proportions. 

After all, this could have all been avoided if VOYA Magazine had acted like a professional, thanked Tristina for her feedback in the original email, and then edited the problematic line. Instead, they've proven that they don't care and they won't change. For all their apologies, they just don't care what the LGBTQ community has to say. 

As of Sunday night, days after all this hit the fan at high velocity, VOYA is still attempting to cover themselves with lies while censoring and blocking those raising issues. Hannah Moskowitz, a prominent member of the YA and LGBTQ communities, just this morning was blocked from VOYA's Facebook page with all her comments deleted. For all their apologies, they continue to dig themselves deeper and deeper into a hole. 

Like my mother always taught me, I'll be walking away from VOYA and making sure I never associate with them. But that's not enough. It's not enough for one major reason. 

VOYA Magazine is the Voice of the Youth Advocate. They claim to advocate for youth, all youth, and yet they've shown the exact opposite. They've shown to all those who look to them for advice, such as librarians, educators, bloggers, reviewers, etc., that bisexuals are something to be warned against. That bisexuals are the other, that though they are allowed to exist, they are "mature content." 

How many queer teen lives has VOYA affected in their screenings of f/f YA novels? How many innocent books were marked as "too mature" simply because there was a mention of LGBTQ? In comparison, why was Kody Keplinger's first book, The DUFF, not rated mature by VOYA despite the rampant (straight) sex all throughout the novel? 

VOYA cannot be allowed to be "an advocate for youth" if their advocating is selective. Bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer youth deserve to be advocated for just as much as straight youth. I work in child welfare, and I've seen first hand all kinds of "youth advocates." I've seen those who would throw themselves on a grenade if it would give one vulnerable youth a better life, and I've seen "advocates" who would gladly throw children on grenades if it helped them get a better salary. 

VOYA Magazine is the latter. They are an advocate that only wants to exploit youth, young adult fiction, and what it may see as an "easy cash cow." 

Teens don't need fake advocates. They need people who care. Not people who brush off the realities of issues facing a large portion of their audience, of those they "advocate for." 

After all, would you want your youth advocate posting things like this in a public Facebook account? 

Lisa is the co-owner and review editor at VOYA. Definitely seems like she cares about youth and their rights. 

I refuse to stand by and allow VOYA to continue like this. I won't be able to sit comfortably wondering how many more queer youth are hurt by their unchecked abusive behaviour. 

I'm here to ask you, all of you, to make them accountable for this. It's time to boycott VOYA. I ask not only that you sign the petition to boycott, but to actually stand by it as well. 

Queer youth need to know that they have those that stand with them. That they don't need a content warning. That they don't need to be silent. 

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