A collection of 72 political statements in poetic form, What Color is Your Privilege? examines the wide spectrum of ways our society marginalizes people. Although many people on society’s fringes still have some privilege, society maligns, excludes, and abuses them because of their skin color, religion, disabilities, neurodivergence, sex, sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, age, financial position, housing arrangements, etc.
What Color is Your Privilege? opens a window on the suffering many are privileged to ignore.
“Serving a truth serum for hate and hypocrisy, F.I. Goldhaber is writing with a hammer and speaking with a tongue of fire. In What Color is Your Privilege?, they sing a book-length blues song decrying racial, gender, religious, and sexual intolerance in America. With courage and a rejection of conventionality rarely found in contemporary verse, this book shines a bright, beaming light on the ‘hostile world’ we live in and the revolution being fought for the soul of America.” — John Warner Smith, Louisiana State Poet Laureate 2019-2021.
Incumbent Washington County Board of Commissioners Chair Kathryn Harrington, who is running for reelection to the at-large position, claims she was elected in 2018 “with a focus on increasing government transparency and accountability, advancing equity and diversity, addressing affordable housing and homelessness.”
She stated on her 2018 campaign website that “We need to be more focused on serving community members throughout Washington County and making sure we are not leaving people behind.” But since she took office, the total number of houseless individuals in the county, which had gone down the year before, has increased by almost 40 percent.
Harrington declined to answer questions regarding the plight of houseless individuals in the county and the ongoing pandemic. But, during her State of the County address on April 12, Harrington discussed how the county is using federal American Rescue Plan and Metro supportive housing services funds to expand the availability of affordable housing and the delivery of wrap-around social services to help people with mental health, addiction, and disability issues stay housed, as well as increasing the number of shelter beds available.
Most of Harrington’s comments about the pandemic were related to economic recovery. She mentioned the county’s high vaccination rate, despite the reality that vaccines only prevent vaccinated individuals from becoming seriously ill in most, but not all, cases.
Harrington also has been slow to keep her promise to advance equity and diversity. After a three-year process which started with the approval of an “equity charter,” the county commissioners, voted in April 2022 to establish an advisory council on racial equity (ACRE). All of the Washington County commissioners except one are white. During the State of the County, she applauded the process of creating a racial equity advisory council, despite the snail’s pace.
In addition, Harrington has hardly been a proponent of government transparency and accountability. Her opponent entered the race after local elected officials expressed concerns with the county’s lack of transparency under Harrington. One of the accusations regarding Harrington’s violations of county human resources policies involved her displeasure “about County staff appearing in front of city councils and interacting with the cities without” her knowledge.
The county paid Michael V. Tom of Northwest Workplace Investigations $25,000 to scrutinize this and other allegations by current and former employees about Harrington’s “unprofessional” conduct while in office. Citing attorney-client privilege, the county originally suppressed Tom’s full report, which he based on interviews with 20 county employees and one non-employee. “[Washington] county staff retained a second independent attorney, at an additional cost of $1,440, to draft a condensation of the significant facts from the report that are not otherwise exempt from disclosure”, according to Philip Bransford, county communications officer.
Witnesses told the investigator that Harrington “indicates disinterest, becomes ‘short,’ or makes statements expressing frustrations with presenters and/or moves onto other agenda items; is sometimes ‘thrown off’ or flustered if a meeting does not go as planned by the agenda; and has been observed using expressive faces, rolling her eyes, heavy sighing, putting her hand on her head or shutting down with crossed arms and sitting back when unhappy in meetings.”
Harrington responded that “she tries to ‘catch’ herself from using the alleged body language.” During her State of the County presentation, Harrington’s delivery was almost wooden. She smiled frequently, but not always appropriately, and there was often a disconnect between her words and her body language.
The condensed report states that Harrington’s “behavior can be hostile and abusive and beyond unprofessional; she can be condescending and speaks down and cuts off people in public settings … she is not a team player or a people person; her communication style is abrupt, blunt and direct; she uses intimidating and a demeaning tone” but also “that it was difficult to determine whether Chair Harrington’s communication and conduct rose to disrespectful or unprofessional behaviors”. One witness said they had “not seen Chair Harrington engage in any unfair, undignified and/or disrespectful, humiliating, or shaming behaviors”, stating “she is not self-aware and has an unkind delivery style; she cannot see herself; she is not reflective and lacks emotional intelligence”.
“Witnesses reported confronting Chair Harrington about her behavior”, the investigator reported, and “the Chair did not engage in the behavior again; that Chair Harrington’s conduct has improved … that in the past 3-4 months, Chair Harrington became more supportive and ‘over-the-top intentional’ to show kindness towards others”. In the condensed report, one witness is quoted saying “that Chair Harrington is brilliant, has great ideas and is good for the County”.
The two male members of the Board of Commissioners insisted to media that they want the full report released. Commissioner Roy Rogers, who is not up for reelection this year, has stated that since taxpayer money paid for the report, it should be available to the public. Commissioner Jerry Willey, who is running for reelection unopposed after two candidates withdrew, claims the investigator concluded Harrington violated county policies and has been quoted as saying, “We can’t cover up violations of our human resources policies under the secrecy of attorney-client privilege.”
Willey told KOIN 6, “She engaged in workplace harassment that was abusive, disruptive, unprofessional, and created a work environment that was not civil or respectful of county employees.” So the investigator is recommending, Willey said, allegedly reading from the report, “emotional intelligence training, benefit from counseling and training regarding her substantiated disrespectful conduct.”
Rogers told KOIN, “In the full report, you’ll see, they resign. There are people leaving. It’s in there and that’s a shame.”
By hiring an attorney to conduct the investigation, the board created the attorney-client privilege it used to prevent the full report’s release. Pamplin Media Group appealed the county’s refusal to release the full report and on April 11 Deputy District Attorney David Pitcher determined “The condensed report fails to adequately describe significant facts contained within the full report.” On April 13, Pamplin’s Troy Shinn reported that Pitcher said, “the condensed report omits significant observations and statements made by witnesses about the behavior of Chair Harrington and its impact on county employees.”
Pitcher’s decision didn’t find the county’s claim of attorney-client privilege persuasive: “For the internal advisory exemption to apply, the county must make a strong showing that its interest in frank internal communications clearly outweighs the public interest. We do not believe the county has met its burden to sustain this exemption. The voters and citizens of Washington County have a significant interest in learning of potential misconduct or policy violations by a public official, particularly one who is up for election next month.”
Pitcher’s boss, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, is also on the May ballot. Harrington has endorsed Barton’s opponent, public defender Brian Decker.
The county had the option of appealing the DA’s decision in court After an executive session on Tuesday, April 12, the Board released the full report with recommended redactions to protect identities of employees the investigator interviewed.
One of the footnotes in the redacted document states: “Many witnesses reported concern for potential repercussions and/or retaliation from Chair Harrington. To aid in protecting their identities, each is referred to as ‘a witness’ or ‘reporting party.'”
That document, about twice as long (with black blocks marking redacted information) as the condensed report, also quotes the employee who reported overhearing Harrington’s use of profanity stating “Harrington is ‘unpredictably volatile’ and you ‘never know which Kathryn you are going to get.’ The employee described the Chair as ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ and reported that the Chair can be straight-forward and happy one moment and then in the next moment will raise her voice and appear unhappy.” This “employee reported that the Chair is the reason the employee is leaving their employment with the County,” according to the redacted report. A former employee reported “they left County employment because of the incident and ongoing concerns with” Harrington. The word “volatile” and references to “Jekyll and Hyde” never appear in the condensed report.
In the full, redacted report the witness who said Harrington is “brilliant” also reported that Harrington “doesn’t have to destroy careers,” that “people are leaving or don’t want to work with her,” and “her behavior needs to change.”
The employee who said it was difficult to determine if Harrington’s conduct “rose to disrespectful or unprofessional behavior” also told the investigator that “other Commissioners,” in addition to Harrington, use “an abrupt, blunt and direct communication style,” according in the full report.
According to Bransford, the county response to the report included clarification by the county administrator of roles and responsibilities of staff who work with the commissioners. Although the work of the employees interviewed by the investigator support the commissioners, they report to the county administrator. In addition, the county administrator has commissioned a workplace assessment to set a baseline for future evaluation of working conditions in the County Administrative Office. Harrington’s use of profanity in talking about staff, another of the complaints in the condensed report, was addressed by soundproofing the “thin” walls of her office. This was done as part of “soundproofing improvements to the existing walls and HVAC ducts” for the entire Board of County Commissioners/County Administrative Office suite (work space for about 20 people in both enclosed offices and cubicles) at a total cost of $11,452, according to Bransford.
When Harrington was elected to the Board, she and District 2 Commissioner Pam Treece, replaced two members of what was then an all male and rural/conservative board. With Nafisa Fai’s election in 2020, the Board shifted to majority female and majority liberal/progressive.
Although the commissioners standing up for full disclosure are men, some of the people who have identified themselves as targets of her harassment have been women, including Harrington’s former Chief Of Staff Elizabeth Mazzara Myers who received a settlement of more than $80,000 for lost wages and benefits.
It’s also been pointed out that the majority of those who have switched their endorsements from Harrington to her opponent, including Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax, Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik, Tigard Mayor Jason Snider, former State Senator Mark Hass, and Former Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten, also are men. But some female elected officials who endorsed Harrington in 2018 have switched their recommendations for 2022 including State Senator Janeen Sollman (District 15), North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan, Banks Mayor Stephanie Jones, Hillsboro School District Board Members Lisa Allen and Erika Lopez. Harrington’s 2022 list of endorsements is shorter than in 2018. However, she is still endorsed by U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici, former Governor Barbara Roberts, Treece, Fai, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, King City Mayor Jaimie Fender, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, State Senator Kate Lieber, and others.
Another notable difference in Harrington’s 2022 campaign materials is apparently in reaction to her current opponent’s military service. In 2018, when she ran against someone accused of lying about whether and when he served in the U.S. Navy, Harrington’s website made no mention of the armed forces. Now, the opening sentence of her bio on the site states she grew up in a military household.
Harrington’s opponent in the upcoming election is Hillsboro City Councilor Beach Pace. Pace served in the U.S. Army for seven years, including as Bomb Squad Executive Officer and Commander, and led her unit in security operations for the United States president, vice president, secretary of state, and other high-ranking officials. She earned a Bachelor of Science from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Master of Public Administration from Northern Michigan University. Her website emphasizes her skills in collaboration, understanding, and listening to all points of view.
Pace has stated she had no intention of running for the county commission until approached, starting in August, by several people who expressed concerns regarding access to information about and involvement in county decisions.
In addition to her experience on the Hillsboro City Council, which she represents on the League of Oregon Cities board of directors and Washington County Coordinating Committee, Pace has held leadership positions with non-profit organizations including Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Columbia Northwest, Vice President and Executive Director of City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, Vice President of Roadtrip Nation, and board member of the Westside Queer Resource Center. She also has nine years private sector experience as a team leader.
Pace is the only commission candidate acknowledging on her website that “we are not yet out of the pandemic” and states she will “collaborate with the local and State governments to ensure resources are available to meet the needs of our communities.”
Unfortunately, federal and state governments have abandoned most efforts to control the pandemic — which is still killing 1,000 to 2,500 people every single day in the U.S. — by eliminating mask mandates, no longer paying for testing and vaccinations for the uninsured and manipulating data to make numbers look better. Washington County, where the virus made its first Oregon appearance in 2020, still offers free vaccinations. However, in addition to not preventing COVID-19’s spread, none of the vaccines appear to reduce the risk of long-term, possibly permanent disability from Long COVID.
When asked how she would work to contain the pandemic in the face of a government attitude which ignores the harm caused to people who are disabled, elderly, immunocompromised, medically unable to get vaccinated, poor, living in congregate situations, etc. (as well as the repercussions of Long COVID), Pace responded with hopium misinformation. “The COVID-19 virus is becoming endemic, meaning it has more predictable behavior. This also aligns with people learning to live with the virus, much like influenza, and regulatory restrictions lifting. However, new variants are preventing us from moving entirely into this endemic phase.”
In stating “I believe local governments now have the opportunity to make recommendations based on case counts on a community-by-community basis”, Pace ignores the fact that we don’t have accurate case counts, because case counts are no longer being reported.
Despite high vaccination rates compared to the rest of the state, Washington County is still at high risk, as are all counties in the metro area, even according to the U.S. COVID Risk & Vaccine Tracker. But even that data is misleading as it uses manipulated CDC metrics. In reality, the only COVID measurement that hasn’t been politically compromised is wastewater data and those numbers are frankly terrifying.
The change in the percentage of the COVID virus found in Washington County wastewater has increased an average of more than 536 million percent just for the beginning of April. The average increase for the entire metro area (Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties) was more than 178 million percent across all reporting wastewater treatment facilities. For the 15 days ending April 21, Washington County was up another 532 percent.
Currently, the Washington County website refers to the politically compromised Center for Disease Control’s deadly “guidelines” which, for example, advise those who test positive to isolate for five days even though most people remain contagious for seven to 10 days. The website also claims people “do not need to stay home (quarantine) unless” they have symptoms, ignoring asymptomatic transmission. Pace said “I will partner with Washington County’s Public Health Officer to ensure accurate information and appropriate recommendations are made available in a timely manner.” Hopefully, if she is elected, she’ll “partner” with epidemiologists and virologists who are not politically compromised to do so.
Pace’s website is the only one of the four commission candidates that doesn’t mention unhoused individuals in the county. When asked how she would address that issue, Pace decried the “housing first” method which emphasizes putting unhoused people in permanent housing rather than temporary shelters, although she does agree with Harrington that “wrap-around services are key to long-term solutions for housing insecure and homeless neighbors”. She specifically lists both Sheriff’s Deputies and operators of the referral-only Bybee Lakes Hope Center, formerly the Wapato Correctional Facility, which requires frequent drug and alcohol screenings, mandatory community service hours, etc., as two “resources” she has consulted to develop “a model of services that provides dignity and respect to our neighbors facing housing insecurity or homelessness.” (In contrast, Harrington mentions the Laurelwood Center, a low-barrier shelter for women and couples that does not require sobriety or abstinence, as a resource she investigated.)
In addition to numerous elected officials and community leaders, Pace is also endorsed by the Portland Business Alliance, Washington County Chamber PAC, Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce, and Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland. From those, her responses to my questions, and her fond memories of her military service, I would peg her significantly to the right of Harrington.
Two of Washington County’s four commissioners, selected by district, are up for election in 2022. Both incumbents are running for reelection, but only one has an opponent.
Incumbent Pam Treece currently represents District 2, the northeast section of County which includes Bethany, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill, Helvetia, Raleigh Hills, and Rock Creek, as well as portions of Beaverton and Hillsboro.
Treece ran in 2018 on the promise of “Making sure housing is attainable, and that residents can afford to live where they work” and “Ensuring a regional approach to homelessness”. She declined to answer questions regarding the increase in and plight of houseless individuals in the county or the ongoing pandemic.
During the State of the County address on April 12, Treece spoke of ensuring enough affordable housing choices and the shortage of affordable housing options, as well as a dearth of middle housing, an issue addressed by the legislature. House Bill 2001 allows for duplex, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses in areas previously zoned exclusively for single-family housing, expanding affordable housing options, Treece said. Both she and Chair Kathryn Harrington made a point of mentioning River Terrace 2.0, which is actually a city of Tigard project, as an example of Washington County’s progress in creating additional “affordable” housing. She also mentioned touring the Laurelwood Center, a low-barrier shelter for women and couples that does not require sobriety or abstinence, as a model for Washington County.
In addition, Treece praised the glacially slow process of creating a racial equity advisory council, expressing her “appreciation to the work that’s gone into this. This is definitely the next step to address the purpose of the ordinance we adopted.”
A graduate of Portland State University and Lewis & Clark College, Treece has been a public school teacher, a small business owner, and a PacifiCorp executive. She also served as Executive Director of Westside Economic Alliance, ODOT Transportation Commissioner, and on a number of Washington County, Metro, Beaverton School District, and non-profit boards and committees. Her list of endorsements by elected officials and organizations is longer in 2022 than it was in 2018.
Treece’s opponent, Don Frazier, repeatedly mentions “clean public spaces” and keeping “our public spaces usable and enjoyable” on his website. When contacted, he admitted those were coded complaints about houseless encampments and stated: “I do not want Washington County to become like Multnomah County and the City of Portland … not taking care of the homeless situation, the camps that just move from one area to another and the heavy use of drugs on the streets.”
Although his website states: “We need to collaborate on creative solutions to help houseless individuals without sacrificing the utility and beauty of our county’s public spaces, keeping tents off the streets while providing food, shelter, and services for those in need”, when contacted he declined to elaborate.
Frazier, a self-employed business owner, former teacher, and union carpenter for Portland Public Schools and Portland Community College, also displays a thin blue line flag on his website and makes references to “unnecessary taxes and burdensome mandates and ordinances.” He declined to answer any questions about what taxes he believes are superfluous, what programs he would eliminate in order to reduce taxes, and what mandates and ordinances he believes are superfluous. Although he promised to respond to these questions in writing, Frazier never did.
The endorsements section of his website is blank.
District 4 Commissioner Jerry Willey, who represents the largest district stretching west, north, and south from Hillsboro to the Tillamook, Columbia, and Yamhill County lines and encompassing Banks, North Plains, Forest Grove, Cornelius, and Gaston, is running for reelection with no opponent. Two candidates filed to run against Willey, but have since withdrawn.
The state’s second most populous county, Washington County is one and a half times the size of Multnomah County with three quarters the population, but the same number/structure of elected officials. In contrast, the open Multnomah County Chair position attracted seven candidates (one has withdrawn) and three candidates filed to run against the District 2 Commissioner incumbent (one has withdrawn).
The right wing blames leftist indoctrination for an apparent exponential increase in the number of people who identify as transgender in recent years. The left prefers to attribute acceptance and reduced stigma.
While the latter offers some truth, additional factors influence how people identify along the gender spectrum, including words.
Words have always been my stock in trade. But, I never found any for my own identity until very recently. I doubt if I’m unique in that for those my age (and even younger).
I was never interested exclusively in girl things or boy things. I didn’t enjoy watching team sports or excel in any solo athletic endeavors that appealed to me. So, I read a lot, wrote fiction and poetry, and put in many, many hours in the high school theater program. Those activities offer the opportunity to live inside other worlds/times and the heads of different people.
The summer before my freshman year of high school I’d moved with my family from Virginia to Texas, the sixth and final move I’d make with my parents. Although moving every few years I became somewhat of a chameleon, I never really fit in anywhere, especially in the Deep South. I attended high school in what was then a small Texas town where principals patrolled the hallways with rulers to enforce gender conformity by measuring the length of girls’ skirts and boys’ hair.
By the time I made it to college, I was so sick of what passed for education in the United States I only wanted out of the system. I took a ridiculous course load that allowed no time for extra-curricular activities and escaped with a sheepskin after less than three years. If there were resources then on the University of Washington campus for people who were not cis and/or didn’t fit within the gender binary, I never knew about them.
I started my writing career as a reporter in eastern Washington and I used initials in my byline to avoid gender bias. When I moved to a newspaper in West Virginia, a woman calling about a piece I’d written, exclaimed that I wrote like a man, intending that as a compliment. At my last newspaper reporting/editing gig in Indiana, I got calls for Mr. Goldhaber and mail addressed to Frank or Fred. Since I wouldn’t tell anyone what the F. stood for (I’d used my middle name since college) folks in the newsroom just started calling me F.I.
In Illinois, where I first went into business for myself, the initials became a good way of separating personal from professional identities. They also proved a useful tool for dodging sales calls. The staff knew that anyone asking for Mr. Goldhaber didn’t get put through. I once got a taste of what the team put up with when I was the only person in the office during a lunch hour. The caller for “Mr. Goldhaber” insisted he knew me personally and would get me fired for not putting him through. I had to mute my end so he didn’t hear me laughing.
When I moved to Oregon a quarter century ago, I discovered I’d landed in the first state that would allow me to put just my initials on my driver’s license. That and my Social Security card allowed me to get a passport with those initials. (At the time, the U.S. government did not issue passports with any initials at all–full names or nothing.) I stopped telling people what the letters stood for.
My first exposure to the concept of transgender identity was discovering Christine Jorgensen‘s biography in one of my parents’ large, crowded bookshelves. But, her story never resonated. I wasn’t AMAB and I’d no desire to embrace femininity. I never felt a need to transition. I just had no definition for myself.
Once I stopped working for other people at the beginning of this century, I ceased wearing skirts and dresses most of the time. I donated the bulk of my working wardrobe to Dress for Success in the early aughts and only donned skirted apparel for weddings, funerals, and author reading/appearances.
With clothing manufacturers moving production offshore, I avoided giving them money by buying exclusively at thrift stores. I shopped for convenience (pockets!), comfort, and durability. Clothing made for male bodies ranked better in all three. Soon the only clothing I owned that was specifically female were items needed to support my tits. In 2019, for the very first time, I attended a formal wedding wearing slacks which I topped with a silky shirt and a brocade vest, all purchased in the men’s section of the thrift store. It was liberating.
But, my body shape and voice–which fluctuates with weather, pollen count, and mood–register as female. So, most people read me as female. I did not believe I “qualified” as transgender.
I have friends who have medically transitioned from FtM and MtF. While I understand, applaud, and support their decisions, I’ve no desire to modify my body or even to take hormones.
But, having adopted they/them pronouns, as awareness has grown and corporations recognize the need, when people assume I’m female I use that as an opportunity to educate them on why they shouldn’t do so. As I explained to one customer phone service representative, you could have just ruined somebody’s day by misgendering them the way you misgendered me.
Recently, several external influences helped me finally, in my early sixties, choose words to describe my identity.
In 2017, the state of Oregon became the first in the U.S. to offer a third-gender option on identity documents. I changed my drivers’ license gender to X the next time it came up for renewal, two years later.
Meanwhile over the past two years, the number of trans and non-binary individuals in my social media feeds grew because of their strong presence in racial justice protests. Many of them are very young and secure in their identities and for the first time I saw various memes that say “Non-binary people do not owe you androgyny”. I wouldn’t call that life changing, but it did give me words to embrace who I am, how my brain works, and how I maneuver through society, separately from how my body looks and my voice sounds.
So finally now, after more than six decades on the planet, I have words for my identity: gender non-conforming and xgender. There is a peace in finding that piece of myself I didn’t really know was missing.
Of course, children born in this century arrived in the world with terms such as genderqueer, gender fluid, non-binary, etc. already available to them. As they establish their individuality, and discover their own identity/personhood, they have words to describe how they fit along the gender spectrum. So too do young adults who grew up in repressive environments and who, even if they are not allowed to express their identity at home, have those words available for them to use once they move out on their own.
Those words convince the right wing that they’ve been indoctrinated. But, in reality, they are words that allow them to embrace their own identities with pride.
The literary community has always catered to white, abled, neurotypical, cis, straight, (mostly) male voices. The entire establishment is structured to privilege those who have money, which usually doesn’t include Black, Indigenous, Latino/a, neurodivergent, trans, disabled, and/or Queer writers.
Achieving success in the literary world requires access to funds for submission and contest entry fees; money to pay for rent, food, and transportation while serving unpaid internships; resources to cover large tuition payments plus travel, living expenses, and forfeiture of any day job paycheck to attend weeks-long workshops or Master’s of Fine Arts programs; etc.
Of late, there has been much discussion in literary circles about the need for diversity in what voices are published. But the entire conversation around submissions from disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQI+, Black, Indigenous, etc. writers is meaningless when publications continue charging fees, or giving weight to expensive pedigrees, that make it cost-prohibitive for all of those marginalized writers to actually submit.
Declaring a desire for diversity, while charging reading and entry fees, is oxymoronic and hypocritical.
I write poetry and essays from the perspective of a queer, xgender, disabled former newspaper reporter published on three continents. For more than four decades publishers of every ilk have paid me to write articles, editorials, reviews, advertising copy, marketing materials, signs, poetry, fiction, personal essays, etc. I often submit my work on spec. I sometimes submit (especially poetry) to non-paying markets. But, I never pay for the privilege of having my work considered for publication.
Recently I learned of a non-fiction contest and, after reading over the guidelines, I realized that a piece I had just completed was a perfect essay for this particular contest. I didn’t enter it, however, because this contest required a submission fee.
As is often stated on guidelines pages, the entity claimed to want submissions from writers of color, writers with disabilities, writers who are LGBTQIA, and writers who belong to other marginalized groups.
But, it still charges fees which make the cost of submitting prohibitive, especially for those specific writers.
This particular entity offered a work around. Black and Indigenous writers could enter for free if they chose to self-identify. And a limited number of free entries were offered to low-income writers (which would include many disabled, neurodivergent, Queer, trans, etc. writers) if they were willing to beg for the favor of participating and identify themselves as “low-income”.
The publication obviously was aware that its fees present a barrier to many. But it apparently still didn’t recognize that the options offered to avoid fees were also problematic.
Normally I just ignore calls for submission of this nature. This publication is hardly alone in charging entry fees while claiming to encourage submissions from marginalized writers, a point you will often find discussed in writers’ groups, on Twitter, in forums for people with disabilities, etc. This has become more common since publications started using paid services to manage their submissions. But, this trend ensures the continued centering and advancement of cis, straight, abled, white voices, no matter how much lip service is paid to promoting diversity.
But by providing work arounds, the publication acknowledged that their fees were problematic. That moved me to reach out and send an email to the editors. I wrote on behalf of all writers who, as a result of our society’s marginalization, can’t afford reading fees and do not choose to beg for the favor of an exception. I also voiced my protest about literary publications monetizing the writers who offer the content that makes their publications possible. And I wrote that email with full expectation of burning this particular bridge.
You cannot imagine my stunned surprise when four days later I received a response from one of the editors that included a list of action points on how they intend to address my concerns.
It’s taken me two weeks to recover from the shock enough to write about it.
Granted, this is a publication edited by queer, neurodivergent, activist multi-ethnic creatives. But, they listened. And they are discussing ways to make changes.
I have long advocated against writers submitting to publications that charge reading/entry fees. In 2020, I prepared 150 poetry, 21 non-fiction, and 34 fiction submissions. Each required a fair bit of time and effort: reading the guidelines, making sure each submission adhered to those requirements, formatting to the publisher’s/editor’s preferences, creating an entry that included whatever information the editor/publisher required. And this was always after reading samples of the publication and to determine whether any and which of my pieces might be appropriate to submit.
This is all a normal part of working as a professional writer. But, if I also had to pay fees for those 150 submissions, even if they only averaged $5 each, I would be out more than $1,000. In one year. And, there is very little correlation between the fees charged, rate of acceptance, and payments made (if any) for work published. For writers, unless they just want to pay to see their work in print, it’s a lose/lose game.
So, I have two requests of my fellow writers. First, do not pay reading fees, particularly if you are among those privileged enough for it not to be a problem. Second, write and tell the publications why, especially if it’s one that’s featured your work in the past. If it’s a publication that claims a desire to boost marginalized voices, point out the hypocrisy. If the editors make claims about the diversity of writing they offer or the voices that they uplift, call them out. Let them know that such assertions are specious because they don’t know how many writers have never submitted work for consideration to avoid paying their fees.