Diversity, equality and representation in London Book Fair

Conspicuous by its absence – where was the LGBT+ representation in the 2017 programme?

When I went to London Book Fair (LBF), I thought long and hard about which talks I wanted to attend. I was determined to learn as much as possible in the time available, but that meant making every moment count. While attending talks I couldn’t network – and vice versa. So I needed to focus. I decided to target talks focusing on diversity above all else, while fitting in as much about children’s and YA, technological innovation, translation and fantasy as I could.

So what was on my shortlist for diversity? There was a wide range of talks to choose from, but due to timing constraints and moving swiftly from room to room between talks  I ended up with the following:

  • Religion – ‘Publishing for Muslims: Representing their Experience Authentically’
  • Race and ethnicity – ‘Megaphone: Introducing New Voices of Colour in Children’s and Teen Literature’
  • Different approaches to literacy levels, education and technology in other countries – ‘Leveraging Mobile Technology for Early Childhood Development’ and ‘Digital Nation: Beyond the Book in Indonesia’ and ‘Experience from Poland: Children’s Books and Educational Learning Resources Supported with Technology’
  • Disability and accessibility – ‘Creating an Inclusive Bookshop’ and ‘Making Books Accessible: Collaboration between the Publishing Industry and the Accessibility Community’
  • Female representation – ‘An Equal Share: Women’s Writing from Poland’
  • LGBT+ representationer… well, surely there must be something… did I miss it?

As far as I could tell, nothing in the programme featured any keywords indicative of LGBT+ themes or issues, and the few ambiguous titles that I looked into turned out to have nothing to do with this either. Perhaps some of the talks I didn’t have chance to attend may have touched on LGBT+ matters, but none of them appear to have been advertised as doing so. This is a serious omission and one that I hope will be rectified in future.

Now, it’s important to note that LBF recently started a whole conference titled ‘Building Inclusivity in Publishing’, and its programme for the inaugural conference in November 2016 contained ‘Make You Think Snapshot’, a talk by Stonewall‘s Joey Hambidge on LGBT+ inclusion. Clearly they’re willing to start conversations about LGBT+ representation and inclusion in publishing… but more needs to be done.

One can argue that it’s not enough to just put a single talk on offer in the dedicated inclusivity conference. Aiming for coverage within LBF itself will have more impact, since the event is so huge. On the official website, LBF is described as “the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels”, where “more than 25,000 publishing professionals arrive in London for the week of the show to learn, network and kick off their year of business”. That’s a huge potential audience that could benefit from talks about LGBT+ representation and inclusion… And clearly the programme is built to take advantage of this for other areas of diversity, so the people who organise it must be aware of the power they hold to raise awareness and generate discussion.

If there isn’t increased visibility and awareness-raising discussion going on during LBF itself, how are the kinds of people who most need to learn about this going to have it brought to their attention? Going to a conference about inclusivity is a deliberate effort to become more aware of relevant issues – it implies a willingness, or even determination, to learn and adapt one’s best practice accordingly. As such, it’s more likely to attract people such as myself, who already take an active interest in diversity, equality and representation within media. For someone who’s comfortably ensconced in their mindset of ‘oh, that’s nothing to do with me – it’s not my problem’, or worse, in a more bigoted mindset, it’s less likely they would invest the time and money to travel to a conference that they feel has little or nothing to offer them. And it is people such as this that are complicit in maintaining the status quo of inadequate representation, or even deliberate lack of any representation, in mainstream media. It is people such as this who we need to get into conversations about why accurate, adequate and respectful representation is important if we want to change the culture both in publishing and beyond.

So how could we reach them? Well, I would suggest that adding clearly marked LGBT+ talks to the LBF programme would be a good way to start. It would signal that this is ‘important enough’ to be discussed in a huge event such as LBF. Furthermore, it would be taking place in an event that very high-ranking professionals with limited time are likely to attend for their own commercial gain, rather than simply turning up out of a sense of altruism or curiosity. This is almost certainly a different audience from those who choose to attend a conference on inclusivity – though of course there’s likely to be some overlap, as LBF is such a major event that it’s highly likely to attract the attendees of the inclusivity conference it helped to deliver. If LBF could deliver content to make publishing professionals at every level think more about the current state of LGBT+ representation in media, surely this could help to build a culture within the industry where more people would be willing to speak out in favour of equal treatment for LGBT+ individuals, both in the workplace and in the content we publish.

At the time of writing, LBF has not yet released its programme for the 2018 conference’s talks. Let’s hope that this year there will be something to address diversity, equality and representation regarding LGBT+ people.