A book publisher is facing a backlash from Mormon writers after refusing to publish an author’s book because he would not allow them to cut mention of his same-sex partner from his author biography.
Authors David Powers King and Michael Jensen have collaborated to co-write a young adult book called “Woven,” the first installment in a young-adult fantasy series about a princess who is visited by the ghost of a young man and then embarks on a quest to bring him back to life. They signed a deal for “Woven” in January with Sweetwater Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort Publishing and Media.
Jensen is gay and not a practicing Mormon, while his co-author David King is straight and a practicing LDS member, facts that, they say, the publisher was made aware of early on in their working relationship.
Cedar Fort Publishing clearly identifies its LDS roots but, as mentioned on its website, it is interested in creating quality books and does not cater solely to an LDS market, noting:
Whether or not a book is written specifically to the LDS market, all of our books should be suitable and uplifting for any group. Our authors believe, as do we, that books should inspire readers to be better people, and we strive to always publish books that are in harmony with that spirit.
As such, the authors claim that beyond general guidelines for Young Adult fiction, “Woven” would not have to directly reflect the publishing house’s views on morality and sexual ethics.
That’s why when Jensen saw a proof of Woven’s cover art at the beginning of August he was surprised to find that the editors had omitted a key line from his biography. The line was: “He lives in Salt Lake City with his boyfriend and their four dogs.”
Jensen reportedly pointed out this error, and was then told that there was a problem with one specific word in that line: boyfriend.
The authors were told that including that word in the bio would harm sales among the LDS market. The authors queried this, saying that Sweetwater is described as a national imprint beyond the religious market and pointing out that the biography had been sent in five months prior to this issue being raised and, at the time, was passed without complaint.
From that point, the situation apparently escalated quickly.
Jensen offered to change the word “boyfriend” to “partner” but refused to remove the reference entirely. Jensen then called Cedar Fort owner Lyle Mortimer, whom Jensen had reportedly known for a number of years. The exchange, if it happened as quoted, now threatens to become notorious (emphasis added):
Jensen says Mortimer told him, after some shouting, that “God had given me a penis for a reason,” and threatened to publish “Woven” without names attached. Jensen was shocked by Mortimer’s position, he says, because “I’ve known Lyle for several years. He knew I was gay.”
Jensen says Mortimer gave him a deadline of Aug. 5 at 8 a.m. to buy out the rights to the novel for “thousands of dollars.”
Jensen reportedly wrote in reply to this a rather brilliant response, saying:
“Perhaps this situation will become a win-win for us both, as the media attention generated by your refusal to publish a biographical sentence comparable to my co-author’s is sure to bring attention to our work. … It will be obvious that the inequality comes from Cedar Fort, and not Deseret Book and other LDS-based bookstores that already carry … works by gay authors.”
Cedar Fort has since released the authors from their contract without penalty.
This might have been an end to the matter, except that 56 and counting self-identified Mormon authors have now signed to a letter expressing their dismay at Cedar Fort’s decision to terminate David Powers King and Michael Jensen’s contract and the publisher’s attempts to omit Jensen’s sexuality, saying in part:
While publishers have the right to choose what they will and will not publish, we believe books should be accepted or rejected upon the merits of their content, quality, and commercial viability, not on any other factor. If a publisher isn’t comfortable with an author’ personal choices, those concerns should be discussed clearly and respectfully upon signing a contract–not hours before the book goes to press.
We believe that all publishers should be clear and professional in their submission requirements, treat others with dignity and respect, and give all authors the right to be judged on the quality of their work, not the content of their biography.
Cedar Fort has so far refused to issue a statement on the matter.
The LDS church as a whole has in recent years, and in particular since its notorious involvement in the 2008 Proposition 8 ballot initiative, worked to reform its image on matters of sexual orientation.
While its doctrinal position on sexual activity is clear, that sexual contact should only occur within the “one man, one woman union of marriage,” the Church has committed to no longer directly finance or involving itself with such efforts. On this it appears the Church has been true to its word with no evidence of LDS money being directly used to finance recent marriage equality battles such as in Minnesota or Maryland. That said, the Church still filed an amicus brief to defend Proposition 8, though it did so by primarily framing its defense of the measure as a matter of state rights.
Regardless, this debacle shows that divisions still remain among the Church’s followers, but it has also demonstrated by the sheer volume of support the writers have received that there is a strong contingent of progressives within the Church who do not agree with such discrimination and are prepared to speak out against it.
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