Kody Keplinger's young-adult book, Run, has a queer character in it. In its review, the trade publication Voices of Youth Advocates (Voya) suggested this was inappropriate for younger readers: "The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers."
Asked why it thought a bisexual character made it inappropriate for young readers, Voya's editors went defensive in record time:
Since this is Bi Visibiliy Week, I understand your need to find and destroy your enemies in a public forum, however, Voya magazine and I are not your enemies."
The complaint referred to was privately emailed; it was Voya's decision to publish it, without permission, along with this response. In another response, it doubled down on the notion that sexuality is inherently inappropriate for exposure to younger readers:
Sexuality (the act or the discussion or the mention, in some cases) and language generally reserved for adults are two issues that are legitimate concerns when addressing the maturity of a teen reader. … This does not have anything to with with whether the sexuality was homo, hetero, bit or other – sexuality is sexuality. It just happened to be that the sexuality in this particular title (Why does that upset you?)
(Bonus points were not awarded for the parenthetical suggestion of emotional fragility.)
When scrutinized, Voya's archives were found to have covered many books "CHOCK-A-BLOCK with heterosexual sex". Only queer moments were subject to such "legitimate concerns."
To readers (and many authors) this wasn't just the usual media practice of hiding queerness from the young while slyly showering them with heterosexual titillation. Voya's responses cut deeper: the pompous and sarcastic gatekeeping, the infuriating suggestion that minorities wanting representation are the real censors, the clenched-teeth insinuations that you do not belong here.
The Guardian quotes Daniel José Older nailing it. Most of the iceberg is still underwater:
Daniel José Older, a YA novelist and Guardian contributor, told me by phone that Voya's response was familiar to those pushing for greater diversity in children's literature – though usually such responses are not aired in public. "Every so often a Shriver will come out and let her defensiveness and feelings out, and then we get something to critique," Older said. "But in general, the folks that don't want the industry to change don't have to say anything, because they have the luxury of keeping quiet and getting their way. So then we're very public in trying to get ourselves seen on the page, and we become the aggressors because we're the ones making noise."
The apologies soon commenced, but Voya's first attempts were not very good, going for the sort of "sorry that you were offended" PR-judo that has become a media cliché in its own right:
Voya reviews editor Lisa Kurdyala posted, then deleted, another tin-eared (but slightly better!) apology to Facebook, accepting that the lumping together of bisexuality and bad language was inappropriate, but rather missing the point on everything else.
Finally, in response to Bustle magazine, came the real deal:
On Friday, September 23, 2016, Voya began what has become a terrible example of bad social media and customer relations. Voya failed dreadfully in response to a legitimate concern about an error in a review. To compound the problem, Voya responded in exactly the wrong ways to further legitimate complaints regarding the original response. This egregious series of interactions was Voya's fault from beginning to end, and represents the company at its worst moment.
We apologize unconditionally to our colleagues and supporters for the damage, pain, and confusion the mistakes have caused. Not only have we caused tremendous insult to commenters online, we have potentially put our supporters in the uncomfortable position of being criticized for supporting us. We are taking steps to ensure that these mistakes are never made again.
This is a fine apology. The right words, finally, even if it comes after a series of responses that undermine its sincerity. Sneering and groveling, it all comes from the same place.