The REAL Diversity Panel

The REAL Diversity Panel

When Words Collide 2018
Saturday, August 11, 2 pm (Waterfront)
featuring Tet Millare, Tiffany Sostar, Adora Nwofor, Alyssa Linn Palmer
moderated by M. Jane Colette

PANEL DESCRIPTION, pre-delivery: Writing diversely starts with living diversely and reading diversely. Join our panel of writers, activists and readers to discuss the role of readers and writers in shaping the world we want to live in through what we read and write and create in our art.

PANEL DESCRIPTION, post-delivery: We did not cover a quarter of what we had intended, and we certainly did not drill into shaping the world we want to live in through what we read, write and create. Instead, we set the groundwork for continued reflection and discussion. We hope that at least once or twice you thought, “I did not think about it like that.”We invite you to consider this panel and these resources as the beginning of more “I did not think about it like that” moments.

Thank you very much for spending a thoughtful and provocative hour with us at When Words Collide. Here are some resources to continue the discussion, get you thinking, and get you writing (yes, we do get to writing specific resources here. Eventually.)

But first…


TET MILLARE is a proud queer Filipino-Canadian LGBTQIA+ advocate, community volunteer, and adventurer. One of the founders of VOICES, Calgary’s Coalition of Two-Spirit and Racialized LGBTQIA+ and a board member of Fairy Tales Queer Film Fest, she strives to live life in the present and channels her hopeless sentimental side through any expression of art. Tet has written and performed (sung, even!) at the Coming Out Monologues, danced with the M:ST8 (Mountain Standard Time Performative Art), and performed as a technical non-dancer at Fluidfest. A published author—she has pieces in the YYC Queer Writers anthologies Queer Christmas in Cowtown and Screw Chocolate 2, she also works as a professional photographer — check out her work on Facebook at Tet M’s Photography. Tet uses she/her and they/them pronouns.

TIFFANY SOSTAR is a community organizer, narrative practitioner, and workshop facilitator. Their work focuses on trauma and transformation – helping people tell their stories, build their resilience, and honour the skills and strategies they use to resist injustice. They love working with queer, trans, polyamorous, kinky folks, and are particularly passionate about working with folks who are marginalized. You can find them online at, on facebook and instagram @sostarselfcare, and by emailing They/them.

ALYSSA LINN PALMER writes romantic noir, lesbian romance, and a variety of short stories. Her novel Betting on Love was a finalist for a Rainbow Award in 2015, and in 2016, her novel Midnight at the Orpheus won a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fiction. She’s also the author of the Chat Rouge noir romance series. Alyssa currently serves as the Diversity Liaison for the Calgary Association of the Romance Writers of America.   Find her works at, and all the usual online retailers. Want to chat? She’s on Instagram and Twitter as @alyslinn, and on Facebook as herself. She/her.

Alyssa was filling in at the last minute for EMILY VARGA, CaRWA’s current VP Events, writer of historical romance and YA fantasy, who peoples her worlds with the same complex characters of colour that people her life. Research geek, data collector, and passionate advocate professionally and personally (she’s a lawyer by day), Emily worked in publishing before going to law school. Emily’s input informed the shaping of the panel, and she’s popping in and out of our notes and resources. So, she really WAS there.

ADORA NWOFOR is a woman of many talents and many passions— comedian, stylist, and makeup artist, a passionate volunteer with, among others, Femwave, the Calgary feminist festival, and the mother of twin daughters and a non-twin son. She’s a Calgarian who’s the child of  Nigerian and Jamaican parents and she’s been called “a beguiling blend of Africa, the Caribbean, and the prairies.” Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram. She/her.

M. JANE COLETTE (moderator) was born in Poland and raised all other the place, spending the most formative chunk of her childhood in Libya, then Italy, before finally becoming Canadian. She’s parlayed her two degrees in anthropology into two writing careers—first, as a legal affairs and business journalist, and now as a literary pornographer. You can find her on most social media platforms as mjanecolette–Instagram is her fave but she’s also on TwitterFacebook, and GoodReads as well. You can also write her at / She/her.


What do all these damn words mean?


Diversity is about the individual. It is about the variety of unique dimensions, qualities and characteristics we all possess. (As Adora put: Diversity is juice, coffee, pop, water, beer…)

Inclusion is about the collective. It is about creating a culture that strives for equity and embraces, respects, accepts and values difference. (Or, in Adora’s words: Inclusion is including ALL the things on the menu)

“Diversity and inclusion is about capturing the uniqueness of the individual; creating an environment that values and respects individuals for their talents, skills and abilities to the benefit of the collective.”

Source: Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion

Emily adds: “When we talk about ‘writing diversely,; I prefer the term ‘writing inclusively.’ Because to me writing diversely implies that I am adding something to the existing landscape that normally wouldn’t be there. I am not, I am just including characters and persons that already exist.”


In brief: “the overlap of social identities contributes to the specific type of oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.”


“Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the theory of intersectionality to feminist theory in 1989 by becoming the first person to use this word in this context of feminism. The first use of the term was in a seminal 1989 paper written by Crenshaw for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” In her work, Crenshaw discussed Black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently, but must include interactions between the two identities, which frequently reinforce each other.”

Source: Wikipedia–Intersectionality

Here is Kimberlé Crenshaw giving you Intersectionality 101… and a bit more:


We’re not gonna define privilege for you here. We’re going to show you:

How privileged are you? Here’s the Buzzfeed Test (100 Questions) and here’s a video documenting people answering this quiz.

Are you uncomfortable? Do you want to deny that you’re privileged because your life hasn’t been easy?

Read this: White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

Privilege is more insidious than you think! Check out this video:

Listen to this podcast:

Remember the part when M. Jane said, “They’re not racist assholes, they’re…” and Adora said, “Excuse me, excuse me, yes they are,” and she talked about how impossible it is to NOT be racist in a racist society, and how essentially the best you can do is to be AWARE of your racism?

Educate yourself about your racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia because, as a person who lives in a racist, patriarchal, and trans-and-homophobic culture, you’ve internalized them.

Here’s a video that takes you through this: AJ+ on the Brain Science between Racism


If you listened to the Dear Sugars podcast above, you’ll have had a taste of Cheryl Strayed’s radical compassion. We’re inviting you here to engage in some radical compassion and practice empathy in situations in which you are not in your comfort zone.

This is THE book that should have made Cheryl Strayed famous, not Wild. (Says M. Jane).


Now, Emily’s pointed out that Chimanada Ngozi Adichie has taken a… non-inclusive position on trans women. You can read about that here:

This situation really illustrates, again, how privilege is a very complicated beast that isn’t always apparent to the people who experience it in one area of the their lives and not another.


LGBTQIA+… “OMG, I can’t deal with all those letters!”

Really? You’re smarter than that. We live in a beautifully complex and evolving world, in which we’re recognizing that gender and sexual orientation are … well, a diverse rainbow.

Here’s a pretty meaty glossary to introduce you to (almost) all the words: LGBTQIA+ Glossary

In our panel, we used the word Queer a lot, as three of us are–although each of us is a different kinda queer. Here’s some reads on that:

Another Excellent Intersectional Video–from the the pov of a Femme Cis-Gendered Gay Man: You Think I’m Femme? I do too

Now’s seems like a good time to show you this:

(If you find a similar chart about writing race, please send it to M. Jane!)

(In yyc, Community Wise Resource Centre frequently hosts Inclusive Language workshops such as this one.)

Pronouns! We could talk a lot about pronouns, instead, we’re going to send you to Teen Vogue (really–Teen Vogue just kicks ass these days):

And if you’re really struggling with this–remember when your friend Mary Smith married Tim Jones, and she became Mary Jones? Did that blow your mind and you just couldn’t deal with it? No? Good. Then you can deal with rethinking pronouns.

Think language doesn’t matter? That using the “right” word isn’t a big deal?

Then, excuse me, why the fuck are you a writer?


We all had some lovely encounters after the panel with people sharing stories and experience and asking very thoughtful questions.

We also had a few of “Why are you so angry? Isn’t the solution to a better world for us all just to be nice to each other?”


And yes, all of those comments came from straight white men. So, this is why people who haven’t won the privilege jackpot by birth are angry–at least some of the time:

Also, watch Hannah Gadsy’s Nanette “comedy” routine on Netflix. (Read this if you don’t know who Gadsby is: “I broke the contract”: How Hannah Gadsby’s trauma transformed comedy, The Guardian)

Now that we got that out of the way…


Right. Because you’re here to write more inclusively.

But do you see how you can’t write more inclusively without really understanding why you haven’t been doing so up to this point?

Because we’re not talking here about tinting the skin of your hero or heroine or popping a quirky queer secondary character into your story. That’s a) lazy b) not enough and c) possibly damaging.

But. Without further ado–let’s focus on publishing and writing now.


The short answer is No.

(And if you ask if the publishing world is racist, the short answer is Yes.)

Here are some depressing statistics.

But let’s make this more personal, let’s meet Arnold Henry, who was going to swing by our panel but his little boy got sick.

ARNOLD HENRY, former NCAA Division I basketball player, is a nonfiction author, a motivational speaker and a skill development basketball trainer who strives to inspire youth through the use of his personal life experience. Born on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, educated in the US (in a military academy, among other places), he now lives in Chestermere Alberta. He’s the author of the memoirs Hanging On To My Dreams and Rebirth, and you can learn more about him on his website.

He’s also the father of a three-year-old biracial boy, and he’s been having a hard time finding books for his son… in which he, as a black father, exists.

So he wrote one.

This is a sample of the kind of rejection letters he received when he shopped it around:

Arnold’s story has a happy ending—but it did not come from the publishing industry. It came from READERS hungry for the kind of story he was offering.

Here’s a pic Arnold got from a reader when Daddy’s Mini Me hit the bookstores:

No market?


Now, let’s zero in on:


Alyssa, M. Jane and Emily are all romance writers and this is the world we know from the inside out. Its statistics are appalling.

The Ripped Bodice, perhaps the only–and certainly the largest–US bookstore dedicated to Romance has been publishing an annual “State of Diversity” report since 2016. You can check out the full reports here and we encourage you to look through them both; in the meantime, here’s a depressing graph:

What the traditional publishing housing do with diversity is also appalling. They ask white writers to put an occasional character of colour in their work. But, like, to not make them, you know—too black. Too ethnic. At the same time—these characters usually play to blatant stereotypes.

When accused of these practices, the publishers say that 1) there is no market for “diverse” romance and 2) the submissions they get from writers of colour are too few and of too low quality.

Let us be unequivocal:


The indie revolution has shown that there is a market and a hunger for indie romance featuring characters that represent the full spectrum of the human experience. And there are EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT writers of colour out there.

The gatekeepers don’t see them… because they are DIFFERENT.

(Also, they’re not looking for them.)

Now, the industry is TRYING to change. Racism, as well as Homophobia and Transphobia, and Inclusivity were the hot topic at the National Conference of the Romance Writers of America in Denver in 2018 (about fucking time, really).

Here are some of the significant moments from that conference:

  • Suzanne Brockman’s speech as she accepted the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and called out Romancelandia on its sins of the past (and silent complicity in the sins of the present), and
  • Sonali Dev’s keynote address at the Librarians’ Luncheon, at which she threw down a gauntlet I hope every librarian in the Western World will pick up
UNEXAMINED RACISM: Remember when we were talking about people being racist without being aware of being racist? Read author Nicki Salcedo’s response to Suzanne Brockman, in which Salcedo, an African American author, put Romancelandia to the test by altering the race of her title character… with tragic results:
“In 2011, I entered RWA’s Golden Heart Contest with this manuscript called “All Beautiful Things.” When the scores were tallied, my manuscript was in the bottom 25%. The judges hated my Beauty and the Beast story. I wish I could say I was surprised. But I wasn’t.

I decided to test my RWA “sisters” and revised my manuscript. In 2012, I took the same story and removed all references to race in the novel. I did not revise or alter my manuscript in any other substantive way. All I did was make the main character “not Black.”

In 2012, that same manuscript became a Golden Heart Finalist. I wish I could say I was surprised. But I wasn’t.”

Still on Romance:

There is some good news:

  • The Changing Face of Romance Novels (The New York Times)
    (Beverly Jenkins, btw, is a pioneering African American romance author and a POWERHOUSE advocate for writers of colour. She’s also an example of how when the system don’t work–you go outside it. Deadly Sexy, a movie adaptation of one of her most successful novels, was successfully crowdfunded and is coming to a screen near you this fall. Read about Deadly Sexy’s journey here.

“You can count the number of Hollywood-done, African-American romances on one hand… Waiting for Hollywood with an African-American cast — I’d have to have two lifetimes.” Beverly Jenkins

Most of the change is coming from grassroots: readers, bloggers, indie authors–this initiative at connecting the press with authors of colour by The Bawdy Bookworms Bloggers, is a great example of this.

Publishing and organizations are following, not leading.

OK, now let’s  move us to the HOW TO WRITE INCLUSIVELY part of the programme.


Let’s start with a big but easy to answer question:

How do you write a blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic time…
without actually producing a a blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic work?

Emily thinks you don’t want her opinions, you want TOOLS. And she’s right. Her main points:

The tools are out there: The research books out right now are fabulous and much better than they once were. I just bought a book called Black Tudors from Amazon and it’s so well done.

First-person research: obviously this is the best but can be difficult to find when looking for historical first person sources of marginalized groups. I would always pay attention to who the researcher or historian was – usually they are white and male so right there that ‘first person’ perspective was skewed. For example I was researching slave narratives and lots of the narratives were very positive and loving towards former masters. I’m not saying it was impossible for a slave to love their master because people are complicated and relationships of power are complicated. But these narratives were all told to white people immediately after slavery. There’s a certain amount of context there to be mindful of.

Sensitivity readers: I had a friend writing a historical Bengali character and she was not Bengali. She tried very hard to get the historical quirks and language correct. When non Bengali people read her story they thought it was fantastic. When she showed the story to Bengali sensitivity readers it was the same – story is great, but the language and characteristics are all weird gobbeldegook. She was so confused. She went back and checked her main historical source and discovered that they were a white person who wrote a historical book about historical Bengalis incorrectly. From the get go her research was flawed. Sensitivity readers are there to help and can point out things which may not be obvious!!

The author’s note section of the book: Great to point out research, any flaws in research, poetic license you took on a character or time period or to explain anything. This is helpful as a sort of CYA (cover your ass) and to explain your process.

Now. Here’s a tricky part:


If we only wrote what we know first-hand, our books would be very boring… and only contain one type of character. So we are not trying to suggest that you should only write about… Nigerian Canadians if you’re Nigerian Canadian, and women if you’re female, and cis-gay-men if that’s who you are. Every book you write will contain some element of “The Other”—characters whose experience of age, gender, profession, background etc. will be different from yours. But. Writing “The Other” is fraught with danger if you approach it with ignorance and entitlement and without empathy.

Here are some resources on research, sensitivity readers, challenges… and charlatans.

You will notice something interesting about all of these resources: the specifics are all DIFFERENT. The core instructions are all the same: approach your topic with sensitivity, empathy, compassion.


This book is now 25 years old and arguably a little dated, but Nisi Shawl continues to develop its themes and insights in her workshop and online courses. Her motto is “I think, therefore I write the Other.” Check out the Writing The Other website for details; upcoming courses include What Is Cultural Appropriation and How To Avoid It, Writing for Trans and Non-Binary Narratives.


On Sept 6, 2015, sci-fi fantasy YA writer Corinne Duyvis sent out this tweet:

and it took on a life of its own. Here’s a recent article of where #OWNVOICES is at from the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a useful hashtag to use on Twitter, in libraries, with Google.

The single biggest important thing you can do to support #OwnVoices authors?

Read them.


More on that shortly.

Now: a question about your story…


Maybe you are. Maybe nobody else would bring the passion, interest, and insight to this subject, this character that you do.

But maybe you’re not.

Why do you want to write this story?

Is this your story to tell?

Can you write this character, this history, this experience with empathy, compassion, appreciation and understanding?

Should you write this story?

Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. Here’s an argument for a non-Own Voices perspective (as well as a caution how #OwnVoices can trap marginalized authors into one type of narrative):

(Your takeaway here is there are no easy answers. Sorry.)

The romance writers on your panel are extra tetchy about this, because we’ve seen the publishing industry deal with the grassroots call for more diversity in romance… by asking white authors to tint up their characters (but not, you know, too much) and STILL not giving authors of colour a fair shake.


Writing With Color is a Tumblr Blog moderated by several authors of color, and it shares writing and resources centered on racial & ethnic diversity.

Here’s a sample post, about writing about all sorta skin tones: Writing With Color About Skin Color

And now, let’s talk about reading.


So. Do you only read books about people who are just like you?

Then broaden your point of view, because your reading habits are perpetuating a narrow world.

After Suzanne Brockman’s RWA speech, one of the action items she gave people was to read OwnVoices. Here is her list (romance heavy, cause, it was the Romance Writers of America convention):

Here are some other sources for inclusive reads:

We’re struggling a bit with a reading list to give you because–well, there’s a genre, there’s a type of book you love to read, right? Sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, detective fiction, fantasy, romance, porn (that’s M. Jane). So if you like hard-core sci-fi and we give you a list of #ownvoices romances… that’s not gonna help you.

Here’s the thing. There are authors of colour, queer authors, gender non-conforming authors, neurally diverse authors writing in every genre (thanks in no small part to the indie revolution). So look at your genre. And find them. It’s really not that hard if you try.

This is M. Jane Colette’s quick list (yes it’s all romance, love makes the world go round):

  • Sonali Dev (Bollywood – M. Jane fave author at the moment) – not dirty ;P)
  • Helen Hoang (neurally divergent)
  • Pintip Dunn (YA)
  • Alyssa Cole (historical)
  • Beverly Jenkins (contemporary… and more)
  • Iris Bolling (the producer of Deadly Sexy) (contemporary)
  • Damon Suede (one of the few gay men writing M-M romance)
  • Xio Axelrod (contemporary)
  • Nalini Singh (goddess of freaky paranormal)
  • K.M. Jackson (contemporary)
  • Siera London
  • Nina Crespo (contemporary)
  • Harper Miller (sexy, spicy, a little kinky)
  • Vanessa Miller Pierce (Christian/inspirational)
  • Nicki Night (edgy dark romance)
  • Priscilla Oliveras (sweet contemporary)
  • Shaila Patel (award-winning fantasy, YA)
  • Vanessa Riley (regency and historical; always multicultural)
  • MK Schiller (fab misfit characters)
  • Sienna Snow (gloriously hot)
  • Mia Sosa (sassy and sexy)
  • Lavern Thompson / Ursula Sinclair (paranormal, sci-fi romances)
  • Lisa Y Watson (sweet contemporary)
  • Laquette (brazenly sexy)

Just in case you forgot WHY we need more than one story, and why we need ALL THE BOOKS by ALL THE PEOPLE:


In case it hasn’t been clear, “diversity” is… like, diverse.

Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) by Kamal Al-Solaylee

“Brown is not white. Brown is not black. Brown is an experience, a state of mind, a world hiding in plain sight. Historically speaking, issues of race and skin colour have been interpreted along black and white lines, leaving out millions of people whose experiences have shaped our modern world.”

+Fun interview with Kamal Al-Solaylee on Open Book


Put a romance author in charge of a diversity panel, and of course she’s gonna show you date videos. You’re just lucky it’s not porn. (That was the kink panel.) Anyway, we need you to laugh for a bit, before we make things heavy again:


Nicki Salcedo received a thunderous response to her “Dear Suzanne Brockman” article from the Internet. Including hundreds of, “I don’t know you, but I loved what you wrote, can you be my friend” kind of notes… that were very well-meaning, but that pissed Nicki off.

“Dear White Person,” she tweeted. “Just because you liked something I wrote, doesn’t mean I get to be your black friend. Surely there’s someone in your town who’s better qualified for that job.”

Writing diversely–thinking inclusively–it begins with living diversely and inclusively. So who does your life include?

Do you spend your days with people… just like you?


Can you change that?

We’re not suggesting you creepily go out stalking queer trans folk of colour.

But if you want to write inclusively–and you live in a white, straight bubble… your writing will reflect that, no matter how much googling-style research you do.


We want to be with people who are like us.

This is not a bad thing or a good thing. This is just a thing.

M. Jane wanted to tell you this story:

“When I came to my first Calgary Association of the Romance Writers of America meeting, I almost turned around and ran. The room was full of straight, white, middle-aged women. Then Alyssa walked in–and at least she was about my age (younger as it turned out) and I started to breathe easier. Then Emily walked in and she was younger than me AND brown (I’m white–but I grew up in North Africa, and, as an immigrant, a room full of white people isn’t a room of my people–it’s just not), and I sat down. Then Alyssa said she wrote lesbian romance, and I felt my shoulders relax. I started to feel I had enough in common with some of these people to stay.

But, even though I get a lot of support from CaRWA and from the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association, it’s the YYC Queer Writers group that’s my most important support network in the writing world. Because there–I’m not the Other. And it is an AMAZING feeling.”

Ok. Now read this:

Sometimes, this means, in life, on Facebook, in meetings–as a white person? You should just shut up.

We say this with love. And we ask you to do it with love. So, when M. Jane was sorting out who would speak to what topic on this panel, she asked Tiffany if she would run with cultural appropriation. Here is Tiffany’s response:

You’re right that I do think a lot about cultural appropriation, but I do all of that thinking from the position of a white settler, the person doing the appropriating. So I just wanted to touch base and make sure that that’s okay, because anything I have to say is always already tinged by my privilege, and my whole process has been one of trying to see what my privilege makes cloudy. So I didn’t want to take up that space if there’s someone else on the panel who might be able to speak to it from the marginalized position, since there is insider knowledge there that I just won’t ever have.

On that note, and to make you both think and smile, here’s Cultural Appreciation Versus Appropriation in Hip Hop, from Strong Opinions Loosely Held (Facebook link)

And now, friends:


We have homework.

And it’s not to tint up or queer up your fiction.

We want you to:

  • Think about the areas in your life that you experience privilege.
  • Grapple with, and accept that you live in a patriarchal, homophobic and racist culture, and no matter how wonderful a person you are and how good your heart–you’ve internalized these attitudes. They colour how you think without you even knowing they colour how you think.
  • Read out of your comfort zone. Read books by queer, trans, black, brown people. About all kinds of the human experience.
  • Read CRITICALLY. And talk about it.
  • Speak up when you see unfair shit happening to authors, readers and people with marginalized identities. Silence is compliance.Here’s a call to action to men speaking out when they see other men being sexist dicks;
    The same thing applies to racist, homophobic, and transphobic behaviour. Don’t just let it happen.

  • Listen. Like, really listen. You can’t learn if you don’t listen. Right?

If you’re not doing any of those things… how can you possibly hope to write a more inclusive world?

You can’t.

Now, when you’ve started to work on your foundation, and you’re ready to write a diverse, inclusive world:

  • Do your research.
  • Go to primary sources.
  • Get sensitivity readers.
  • Critically consider your motivation in writing this type of story, this type of character, this type of perspective.

Ok. Now you can write. 😉

Too much work?

Gird thy loins. The revolution is not for the lazy.

* * *

Panelist contact info recap:

TET MILLARE via Tet M’s Photography on FB.

ADORA NWOFOR via Facebook and Instagram. Her Facebook feed is educational. Use it.

TIFFANY SOSTAR at, on facebook and instagram @sostarselfcare, and by emailing

ALYSSA LINN PALMER at, on Instagram and Twitter as @alyslinn, and on Facebook as herself.

M. JANE COLETTE on Instagram, TwitterFacebook, and GoodReads; /

* * *

If you’re interested in the slides/speaking notes/resources from M. Jane Colette’s other panels – THE ORGANIZED CREATIVE + What is RWA and how can it help you? + Kink, BDSM, Consent & Feminism – send her a note to mjanecolette @ for links + passwords.

Thank you!