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I am attempting to write a YA novel, and I keep wondering if it is important these days to include at least one LGBT character. So far, no LGBT character has 'organically' come up in the story, and since I am not LGBT, I feel awkward writing such a character, since I cannot relate. Also, I fear that going out of my way to indicate that a character is LGBT will seem forced and seen as playing to the crowd.

On the other hand, since LGBT rates are rising in young people, I feel like having LGBT characters is not only what publishers are looking for, but also something young readers are looking for and can relate to.

My fear is just that a publisher will reject my work stating (among other reasons, of course) that it does not have enough LGBT representation. Am I just paranoid or is this something I should be concerned about?

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    The premise of this question scares me. Where are the times when you'd have an idea for a novel and you'd just write it, without need to check boxes on the diversity card? – SF. May 11 at 12:17
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    I think you have a wrong view on LGBT (and the rest.) There are not more young people who are, there are more young people who dare to admit they are. It is a fact of life which has been long ignored or denied. You can write about it or ignore it, but I think the best is to hint about it (two people of the same gender leaving together or something like that) and leave writing a character like that till you are happy to do so. – Willeke May 11 at 18:23
  • I think 85% of the time, a character's sexual orientation doesn't matter. I know several people I would best describe as 'asexual' who lack ANY apparent sexual impulses. They are some very nice people, and generally don't give a crap about this stuff. I do sympathize, though, with the real or perceived need to fulfill writing requirements to get published. People deny it, but there is real stigma directed towards overly 'traditional' characters and writers. – DWKraus May 12 at 0:22
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So far, no LGBT character has 'organically' come up in the story.

Speaking as someone who is Bi and in a homosexual relationship, The above quote from you is all I care about. If, in the creative process, you come up with a cool character who fits your story and is fun to read... and happens to be gay... then by all means write about the character.

If you're trying to get me to read by shoehorning a character who you think I'll identify with because of who he/she boinks... I'm sorry... but I'm not going to care.

But here's the test for you. Find a show or book with an LGBT character that you like watching or reading about. Now, go through all the motions of that story, and pretend that this character is straight. If you do that and you still like a character, congratulations, you've found a good LGBT character (yes, some elements don't translate well... like coming out... but unless you want your YA novel to be a coming out story, it shouldn't be a big deal coming out. Just drop it in a side comment and move along with your story. Don't throw a big party about it.). And that test works for a whole host of characters you can't identify with because of differences in sex, sexuality, skin color, or religion. I mean one of my favorite characters I've created is a 16 year old girl. I gotta tell you, as a 32 year old man, never once have I been a 16 year old girl. And when I started developing the character, she was a he (No, she's not Trans... I made the character for an MMO and wanted to recycle some of my characters for my own story. When I came to this one, I felt the origins didn't work and I needed to retool. Somewhere in the retool, I flipped the gender and got a better story for my effort.).

And here's the thing, I don't know how your character development process works, but I tend to "meet" them rather than create them, and let them tell me about themselves. Sometimes the character will tell me "I'm gay" right out of the gate. Other times, they're very subtle about it. Perhaps you already wrote a gay character... they just haven't come out to you. Yet. They're waiting for you to get to know them more.

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Instead of looking at this as an arbitrary hoop to jump through, consider the reasons behind it. Publishers are looking for books with LBGTQ+ characters because book buyers are seeking those out. Why? Either because they are LBGTQ+ themselves and would like to see their own experience reflected, or because they want fictional worlds that better reflect the diversity of the real world. Given how much non-diverse literature already exists out there to compete with, a new perspective can help a book stick out from the crowd.

It's generally estimated that about 1 in 10 people have a sexual orientation that is not primarily heterosexual, and many, perhaps most people have had at least some level of same-gender attraction and/or experience at some point in life (this is particularly common during the sexually confusing time that is adolescence). So it might add realism to your work if those ratios were considered. On the other hand, not everyone's sexuality is obvious on the surface --many people conceal or suppress their sexual orientation, either because of personal discomfort or because of social pressures. None of your characters may be flying the rainbow flag, but might one or more of them be secretly or subtly gay? (Note: There are not more LGBTQ+ people now than there used to be, there are more people comfortable with openly identifying themselves that way, and at younger ages. It wasn't that long ago that people who could stay in the closet tended to do so.)

With all that said, neither publishers or book buyers are looking for reluctantly included, inauthentic token characters. So don't shoehorn a LBGTQ+ character in because you think it's trendy. Plenty of books are still being published without any LBGTQ+ characters. It just needs to be a strong-enough, well-written-enough, original-enough narrative that people will still read it, even if it isn't diverse. And don't forget, there are other forms of diversity you can bring to your book, some that might be more authentic to you as a writer. Are you on the spectrum? The child of immigrants? Disabled? Painfully non-athletic? From a rural area? Jewish? Asthmatic? Is there some overlooked aspect of your own experience you can bring to your book to make it richer and more distinctive? That's what publishers are really looking for, not just a box to be checked off.

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As far as I know, there is no legal requirement to include LGBT characters in YA novels in the USA.

And in a few countries there might be official censorship decreeing that no LGBT characters appear in YA novels.

Anyway, stories vary greatly in how many characters they have and how much information about various characters is given.

A story could involve a hermit living in a cabin in the woods who meets two characters searching for gold and has to take sides in a conflict between them without knowing either well.

Or on the other extreme a story could involve a lot of characters and a lot of information could be given about many of those characters, including the sexual orientation of some of them.

The more characters that the reader learns a lot about there are, the more statistically probable it will be that the reader will learn that some characters are LGBT.

So if you write a story where a lot of characters are shown to be "straight" but no characters are shown to be LGBT, readers and publishers might suspect that you are biased asainst LGBT people.

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