It's interesting to hear Elizabeth Bear say she's also on the look out for queer folks in novels she reads. And that finding them is like finding home.... or at least suddenly feeling more welcome.
There are many reasons I read. One of the reasons science fiction and fantasy keeps me coming back is because it is one of the few places in which an odd duck like myself can reliably find a reflection on the page.
I think that's why this issue of diversity is so important to me.
I remember having my heterosexism kicked in the teeth by Elizabeth A. Lynn's novels, which I read in high school. She not only made me realize when I was fourteen that people of the same gender could love each other, but also she made me really take a hard, cold look at my gender assumptions, in general. Who says "soldier" automatically means "male"? Who says "artist" is more likely female?
These questions have haunted me my whole life. When I see a science fiction show with the ubiquitous male space ship captain, I ask myself, why? Why is the captian a man? Why is white (if he is)? Why is he straight (if he is)? What else is out there?
Of course, I ask these same questions when watching commericals, driving my friends and relations absolutely spare. A real quote from me: "Honey, did you notice the guy selling the matresses is the white guy with perfect teeth and the people who can't seem to find a decent bed are the black couple?" Real response from significant other: "Could you just not think for five seconds?"
I blame Elizabeth A. Lynn.