Companies in various industries host LGBTQ employee resource groups, and publishing is no exception. We spoke with representatives of such groups at four houses; all have related goals but each has a different way of organizing.
Some are grassroots affairs spearheaded by passionate advocates. Others work closely with human resources and company executives. Regardless of structure, members and allies alike have discovered how queer employee groups can enrich workplaces and publishers’ relationships with readers.
Nora Alice Demick, who works in marketing at Riverhead, Viking, and Penguin Books, cochairs the Penguin Random House LGBTQ Network with Tan Chan, a designer. They inherited the group from founder Emanuel Xavier, a poet, author, and activist who works in special markets at PRH. Xavier launched the network in 2011 on the heels of the company creating a video for the It Gets Better project, which supports bullied LGBTQ youths.
Demick and Chan took the lead in 2017, and one of their first changes was to add the Q to the group’s name. “We thought this would better represent the different orientations and gender identities that we have here at PRH, and we wanted people to know that we acknowledged their existence,” Demick says. “We want people, LGBTQ or otherwise, to know that we’re here. That was one of the biggest issues—no one knew that there was an LGBTQ network at PRH.”
In the past year, the network has expanded from brown bag lunches and happy hours to fundraising and volunteering. “We did a huge, successful bake sale for the Trinity Place Shelter, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in Manhattan,” Demick says. “We sold out in an hour and had to go scrounge up croissants because we didn’t have anything else left to sell.”
About 150 employees have signed up for the group’s mailing list. The network will participate in New York’s Pride March again this year and is organizing book giveaways and panel discussions throughout June. Activities come to a head during Pride Month, but the group also pursues long-term projects, such as its crowdsourced bibliography of LGBTQ literature.
“To look back and see that we have all these titles by LGBTQ individuals—as a queer person, it’s empowering,” Demick says. “It makes me confident every single day walking into work.”
Leading by Example
At Macmillan, after the 2014 launch of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, several employees realized the company wasn’t doing enough. “The discussion sort of arose like a volcano,” says Angus Killick, associate publisher at Macmillan Children’s. He and Monique Patterson (editorial director, romance, and executive editor at St. Martin’s Press) cochair the diversity and inclusion council, which was created in 2015.
“We’re trying to infuse the organization with multiple touch points on diversity, so that people are more aware during their daily lives at work,” Killick says. To that end, the diversity council offers programming and workshops on bringing books with diverse perspectives to market, where editors, marketers, and publicists come together over lunch to discuss past strategies and hear new ideas. Killick says the children’s division’s Reading Without Walls program, started by former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and First Second graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, has been a big inspiration for the council.
“The idea is to get people reading books that they wouldn’t normally pick up,” Killick says, whether in topic, voice, or genre. For Pride Month in June, “we’ll ask divisions to suggest books, and then we’ll pile them up in the lobby.” Employees will be invited to choose a title, spend some time with it, and pass it along to a friend.
Actively promoting diversity within the publisher’s output has driven a big change in how Killick, for one, sees the overall Macmillan catalogue. “Nowadays, you can promote an LGBTQ book alongside any other book that we’re publishing,” he says. “We’re not siloing the publishing of those books any longer. It’s about the quality of the book more than it is the topic.”
Simon & Schuster’s 10-member Diversity Council, founded in 2001, has a deep history of outreach and partnerships. “In order to reach as culturally a diverse community as we can with all of our books, we have to be represented by as culturally diverse people as we can be,” says Joy Bertan, director of talent acquisition and diversity initiatives at S&S. The council, which focuses on programs and volunteer opportunities, can be a serious time commitment, she says: “This isn’t something you just say you’re a part of.”
Bimonthly author events have been a hit with employees, Bertan says, such as the recent q&a with transgender activist Janet Mock, whose Surpassing Certainty (Atria) was recently released in paperback. Laurent Linn, art director at S&S Books for Young Readers, presented his debut YA novel, Draw the Line (McElderry), when it pubbed in 2016.
Amanda Armstrong, who has led the S&S Diversity Council for 12 years, is especially proud of the way the group has facilitated volunteer work at the company; employees have donated their time to LGBTQ-oriented nonprofits including the Trevor Project, Housing Works, and the Ali Forney Center as part of the companywide community outreach day. She sees the encounters as enriching to S&S as a publisher and an employer because they raise questions that extend beyond that day of service. “How do we define what we did, and incorporate what we’ve learned?” she asks. “How does that help us to look for the next book, to look for the next author, to look for the next person we’re looking to hire?”
Filling a Need
In August 2017, academic and professional publisher Elsevier had thriving pride groups in its offices in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, and in Iloilo and Manila in the Philippines, as well as a newly established chapter in Chennai, India. David Parsons, publisher of the Elsevier journal Data in Brief, recalls saying to himself, “New York is one of our biggest offices—it’s a shame that we’re in the birthplace of the gay rights movement and we have nothing to show for it.”
Three months later, Elsevier Pride N.Y.C. held its first meeting. After just four hour-long get-togethers, the group—now called RELX Pride N.Y.C., thanks to the increasing interest it’s drawn from employees throughout the company’s parent organization—has begun to find its voice. “In the beginning, we had no idea what our purpose was, except that we were all gay,” Parsons says. “It was like, okay, this can’t just be ‘gay club.’ We felt like there was a good opportunity for us.”
The group has had some early successes, including fundraising $1,350 for AIDS Walk New York 2018, which the company will match. Parsons is particularly excited about one plan for fall, when group members will go into New York City high schools to show queer students that it’s possible to come out and have a great, stable life. The group is also organizing an in-house workshop about pronoun usage and advocating for a gender-neutral bathroom.
Because of the pride group, Parsons has also found a community at work that he hadn’t thought was available to him. “I feel like there’s a palpable improvement just in general communication within my office,” he says. “It’s the first time I’ve ever interacted with people from different silos. We’re not all super like-minded, so I’m glad we came together.”
Publishers’ LGBTQ groups are having an influence not just on employees, but also on their authors. “Some editors have mentioned that there is an active LGBTQ network to queer authors that they’re considering acquiring, as an incentive,” PRH’s Demick says; the group’s presence may serve as evidence of extra consideration in supporting an author’s book. Marketers and editors contact Chan and Demick for advice on targeting potential booksellers and readers. “That’s my dream, to be able to help this process along,” Demick says.
More people are joining these efforts. At Macmillan, Killick estimates between 35 and 40 employees from across the company make time for the Diversity and Inclusion Council and its committees, including the head of human resources and the house’s employment lawyer. A full-time consultant joined in February as a project manager. Parsons counts between 10 and 20 active members of the N.Y.C. Elsevier/RELX Pride chapter, with 40 on its mailing list.
Simon & Schuster’s Armstrong notes the difference efforts such as pronoun education have made in the hiring process. “You can see when people come in and interview with us, that they felt that they can actually work here, like everyone else,” she says.
Demick has a big vision for PRH’s network going forward. “I want every single person [at PRH] to come to us and let us know that they’re publishing an LGBTQ-oriented book,” she says. “I want to increase everything that we’re doing so that we can have more time and more space for all the people that should be involved with this.”
As Demick is quick to point out, that includes allies, too. “Anyone who wants to come and be supportive is totally welcome,” she says. “They’re probably just going to have to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race or something.”
Esther Bergdahl is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn who writes about creativity and culture.
Below, more on the subject of LGBTQ publishing.
Rainbow Connection: LGBTQ Publishing 2018
LGBTQ community building takes many forms, including literary festivals, writers’ retreats, and online outreach.
LGBTQ Publishing 2018
Select 2018 books with LGBTQ themes.