Politics / Activism

Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year

By now you’ve heard that the Advocate has named Pope Francis its person of the year. In perhaps one of the most cringingly apologetic and sycophantic pieces published about the Supreme Pontiff, Lucas Grindley reaches to draw the barest scraps of meaning out of the most innocuous of statements. In fact, reading this piece, you’ll notice that most of the article is Grindley doing little more than repeating himself or explaining why other people deserve the praise more. I almost feel as if the editorial board made the decision, and poor Lucas was tasked with writing it up. But let’s examine this article to see if we can divine the thinking that makes what appears to be pandering to pop culture lionization into a legitimate choice.

As I mentioned, the first six paragraphs are about how other people should have been given this honor. Grindley focuses especially on Edie Windsor, the brave woman whose case got a part of DOMA thrown out in court. It’s followed by this remarkably cop out:

Edie Windsor is a hero, one well worth recording in history books that retell the story of DOMA’s demise. But she is not the Person of the Year. She couldn’t possibly be, not for The Advocate, where we celebrate the work of so many who contributed to that landmark Supreme Court victory.

So, wait. Because she wasn’t the only one who was integral to court cases for LGBT people this year, she couldn’t possibly be the Person of the Year without either naming everyone or not covering those victories? That’s not even an attempt at a legitimate excuse for this.By that same logic, how can you name Pope Francis the Person of the Year when there are so many other Christian leaders, like Bishop Gene Robinson, who have done so much more for the LGBT community? Hell, Father Greg Reynolds, who was excommunicated by Francis’s office for speaking positively about gay rights, has done more for us in the Church than the vaguely dismissive statements from the Pope and the Advocate took the time to celebrate him and condemn the Church for their actions, so doesn’t this invalidate Francis for the position? I suppose when they subheaded the earlier article “Despite Pope Francis’s encouraging words, it’s clear that the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t changed it doctrine on LGBT equality,” they didn’t actually intend to imply that should be meaningful in any fashion.

And speaking of people who would be better suited to this, other than the numerous ones mentioned in the article that just focus on court cases, like David Boies and Ted Olsen or Roberta Kaplan who happens to also be a lesbian, what about Mike Michaud? How about Jason Collins? Mary Lambert for her amazing contribution to “Same Love” (which the Advocate also missed in favor of straight front man on the song, Macklemore)? Alvin McEwen, who’s “How They See Us: Unmasking the Religious Right War on Gay America” has done more to cut through the smiling bigotry of so many groups that claim to love us but work against our interests? Any of these people have done more concrete things for the LGBT community than Francis.

But let us continue.

The most influential person of 2013 doesn’t come from our ongoing legal conflict but instead from our spiritual one — successes from which are harder to define.

So they won’t try.

Pope Francis is leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics all over the world. There are three times as many Catholics in the world than there are citizens in the United States. Like it or not, what he says makes a difference. Sure, we all know Catholics who fudge on the religion’s rules about morality. There’s a lot of disagreement, about the role of women, about contraception, and more. But none of that should lead us to underestimate any pope’s capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally.

Globally he may make a difference, but in the US he’s preaching to the choir. Already most Catholics are pro same sex marriage and overwhelmingly pro LGBT rights. Will he have an effect in other countries? Who knows? But until that time, maybe we should hold the adulation. This is the same wrong-headed behavior that could be put on a trend line with giving President Obama the Noble Peace Prize before he actually accomplished anything that would merit it. Sure, the potential is there, but the potential that this post will go viral and spark a new understanding for LGBT people around the world also exists. Can I have my Person of the Year cover story now, Advocate editors?

I realize that there is a difference in that people reading this don’t consider me the sole messenger of god’s divine commands (though I can’t imagine why), but quite frankly neither do a lot of Catholics. Conservative Catholic groups and speakers, rather than drastically shifting their perspectives just because there’s a new Pope in town, have either stayed silent or just attacked the guy they’re supposed to consider infallible. Conservative Catholics in the hierarchy, like the loathsome Timmy Cardinal Dolan, are making excuses for why what it sounds like he said isn’t really what he said, and are actually mostly right on this point.

Grindley goes on for a while and includes a few paragraphs outlining the Pope’s public opposition to LGBT rights in his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. So, again, we’re looking at Grindley undermining his own point in a baffling defense of this choice. Then we’re treated to this paragraph:

But it’s actually during Pope Francis’s time as cardinal that his difference from Benedict and hard-liners in the church became apparent. As same-sex marriage looked on track to be legalized in Argentina, Bergoglio argued privately that the church should come out for civil unions as the “lesser of two evils.” That’s all according to Pope Francis’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin. Argentine gay activist Marcelo Márquez backed up the story, telling TheNew York Times in March that Bergoglio “listened to my views with a great deal of respect. He told me that homosexuals need to have recognized rights and that he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.”

The bolded part is what really gets me for two reasons. The first is that if it’s private, who really gives a damn? This is not an elected official who can quietly vote for policy that will benefit people without actually saying it out loud. The power of the priesthood is one of public acclaim. Grindley’s point toward the beginning of the piece that Francis has the ear of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide underscores this point in that the Church affects policy by talking about and linking their preferred policy positions to the will of god. If they’re doing so privately, then they are effectively doing nothing other than letting history be able to absolve them of their behaviors in retrospect when people who have done far more than they have actually accomplish what they publicly oppose. If I were a secret Libertarian, telling my closest friends that I thought the free market could solve the world’s problems and that somehow gets borne out as correct, it wouldn’t change my rather consistent points against that ideology in public for the past several years.

The other point is that considering civil unions “the lesser of two evils” is not actually a step in the right direction. It still basically says that homosexual relationships are evil, or at least the recognition of them is. That Francis is a pragmatist on this point and realized he was going to lose so tried to limit the damage doesn’t make him a great voice to LGBT people. It only makes him aware of political realities.

There are three paragraphs after that speaking in glowing terms about the “who am I to judge” quote, but yet again Grindley undermines his point by following it with this quote from Francis:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Again, if your Church is actively lobbying against LGBT rights, then all this says is that it’s a bad idea in the current climate to be open about that. Francis not talking about gay rights issues publicly doesn’t stop the USCCB from doing so, and it doesn’t stop the Church from supporting campaigns to limit gay rights.

The piece goes on and on pointing out irrelevancies. For example, did you know that one of the Pope’s closest advisers condemned the Indian ruling that homosexuality could be illegal? Is this supposed to be newsworthy? It seems like a pretty low bar that one guy close to the Pope thinks that locking people up just for being gay is a bad thing should be considered a sign of the Pope’s great commitment to our cause. If Peter Sprigg quits the FRC and his replacement doesn’t think we should be kicked out of the US, does Tony Perkins get a Person of the Year as well?

Grindley also asks, “Will the House of Representatives — of which nearly a third of members are Catholic, more than any other religion — pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?” The answer, of course, is “no,” but the fact that a third of the House is Catholic is meaningless. American Catholics opposed Church doctrine on this point during the last Pope, too.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. This article and this decision on the part of the Advocate is absurd, and their justification is muddled and half-hearted. Even the writer doesn’t seem to know why this guy was chosen and engages in mindless apologetics so irrelevant and full of deepities that they could make William Lane Craig green with envy.

It’s one thing for Time magazine to name Francis person of the year. They’re a wider audience magazine and he has done a lot of good in terms of speaking in favor of the poor. I’m not going to knock him for his accomplishments thus far. But the Advocate is supposed to…well advocate for LGBT people, and this is nothing more than an exercise in ass kissing of the popular Pope who has captured the hearts and minds of untold numbers of people who are easily swayed by pretty, empty words.

Part of why we, as a community, have succeeded is that we haven’t been satisfied with pablum and assurances. We’ve taken our successes and built on them. This is a capitulation to rhetoric. The Advocate quotes Time in pointing out that the Vatican is “a place that measures change in terms of centuries.” If their magazine is around in a few centuries, then maybe this award might be meaningful. However, if their concern is to ignore actual heroes of the LGBT rights movement in favor of supporting substance-less cultural narratives, then I suspect they won’t remain relevant for very much longer, let alone centuries.

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Kaoru Negisa

Kaoru Negisa

Kaoru is a Florida boy, born and raised, and currently resides in Orlando, the City Beautiful where he is the proud owner of his own degree in English. When he is not volunteering with the LGBT community or participating in some political action, he is generally fencing, singing folk songs, or playing mandolin. Kinky bisexual atheist feminist geek, and probably a few other things as well. He also posts over at Reasonable Conversation about LGBT issues, politics, and atheism, and at Sequentially Yours about comic books.


  1. January 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm —

    This is very much how I feel in general about liberals falling all over themselves to praise the new Pope for not being a 100% Grade A Asshole, which I’ve been seeing pretty much since he took up the post.

  2. January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm —

    Right there with you. It’s endlessly frustrating to see how many liberals are willing to just accept “better than before” rather than pushing for more. And since writing this, the guy has encouraged one of his bishops to speak against a bill in Malta that would allow same-sex civil unions and, therefore, same-sex adoption.

    But he said such nice things that one time, so the Advocate thinks he’s just swell!

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