The Advocate, a national LGBT-interest magazine, followed Time's lead and named Pope Francis as their "Person of the Year." Although the pontiff's popular appeal has snowballed this year, the decision and its reasoning still come as surprises.
Editorial Director Lucas Grindley explains the magazine's pick. He writes that we shouldn't "underestimate any pope's capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally." He also details the compassion Francis has demonstrated to individuals in the community and in dialogue with LGBT groups.
Grindley suggests that Francis is "all the more daring" and deserving because he has allegedly reversed the trend of past popes. But, has he really? And, should that warrant him the honorific title?
The Advocate contrasts Francis with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, asserting that the latter was homophobic. This is the same Benedict who said, "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs." The emeritus pope's statement was not an isolated incident.
Oddly, but to Grindley's credit, he doesn't overlook the fact that Francis, like Benedict and the authoritative texts of the Catholic Church, has for religious reasons in no way endorsed gay marriage. Grindley simply banks on his hope that this will change, as if the views of a foreign religious leader ought to have any impact on the democratic process in the United States.
Pope Francis, who has stated his commitment to promoting the dignity of "every man and woman" regardless of their identity, is not necessarily a bad pick on The Advocate's part. However, Grindley's decision to pick this pope – for ostensibly being different than the last man to hold his role – is a shaky argument. The situation recalls President Barack Obama's reception of a Nobel Peace Prize essentially for not being former-President George W. Bush.
Spiritual and social understanding are important, but it may have made more sense had the magazine picked those who demonstrably and favorably affected U.S. law for the LGBT community. Grindley does dedicate deserved time to explaining the merits of those involved in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this year. He lauds:
Edie Windsor… is a hero to LGBT Americans for taking the final punch in the fight against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, and section 3 is no more.
Also at the Supreme Court that day, for example, were the four plaintiffs in the related Proposition 8 case from California, and they should be lauded. Or, any of their lawyers… Then there's attorney Roberta Kaplan, one of us, who eloquently refuted Chief Justice John Roberts when he suggested times have changed and LGBT people are no longer an oppressed minority.
Yet, that is apparently not enough to warrant "Person of the Year" for any of them. The Advocate's choice can be seen as goodwill extended from the LGBT community to the Catholic community, an optimistic response to Francis' own efforts. But, that is difficult to do while pretending Francis is an advocate for anything different than his predecessor, and sidelining the America's own LGBT advocates who triumphed over considerable legal burdens this year.