Let's play a game, shall we?
Let's pretend there's a person who works for a religious organization that fights LGBT rights across the globe. Said person has a history of making degrading comments about same-sex marriage. He's called it "a scheme to destroy God's plan," a "total rejection of the law of God," "a move from the Father of Lies" (i.e. Satan). He's even gone further, implying that the loving marriages of same-sex couples are evolutionarily inferior to opposite-sex marriages ("a real and dire anthropological throwback").
And just for good measure, let's pretend this man has also publicly claimed that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children.
Sounds an awful lot like we could be talking about a Brian Brown, a Maggie Gallagher, or a Bill Donohue, right?
Now pretend with me that this person began to slightly moderate his anti-gay views, even throwing in a few nice-sounding words about not "judging" LGBT people -- while still not apologizing for his previous hateful remarks and taking care to point out that he continues to believe that the sexual expression of gay love is sinful and disordered.
Would you acknowledge and affirm what appears to be steps in the right direction? Absolutely. But would you breathlessly drape a pride flag around his shoulders and crown him a hero of the LGBT community? Hell no.
Yet that's just what The Advocate, America's best-known LGBT magazine, did when it named that man -- Pope Francis -- its 2013 "Person of the Year."
Don't get me wrong, Francis's words about LGBT people absolutely do represent a stunning change in tone from his intensely homophobic predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Could you have imagined John Paul II, who issued a pastoral letter calling homosexuality "objectively disordered," making the claim that the Catholic Church does not condemn gays and lesbians? Of course not. And there's no way in hell that Pope Benedict XVI, who explicitly endorsed the anti-LGBT spiritual bullying of the U.S. bishops, would ever suggest that the church should refrain from interfering spiritually in LGBT people's lives.
Furthermore, regressive views on LGBT people and women notwithstanding, Francis has been a breath of fresh air -- calling out the bankruptcy of "trickle-down economics," slamming unfettered capitalism, touching and kissing a man with severe facial disfigurement, and foregoing perks like the papal apartments and the popemobile.
But as I've written over and over and over again, Francis's nice words about LGBTs are at most a change of style, not of substance. He's even said so himself:
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. ... 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.
(Click here if you need a review on what the Catholic Church teaches on homosexuality.)
Pope Francis' Catholic Church isn't abandoning its anti-LGBT beliefs; it's just going to talk about them less often and put on a kinder, gentler face whenever it's forced to do so. As I've said before, his nice words are a response to the shifting politics around LGBT issues, not a new policy of inclusion for LGBT people.
In their lengthy explanation for selecting Francis as "Person of the Year," The Advocate doesn't point to any concrete pro-LGBT accomplishments. Instead, they bring up Francis's nice words and ask:
One could imagine how acceptance of LGBT people might fit into the pope's case for loving every human being and valuing the contribution made by each to society. With less than a year as pope, Francis still must show whether his aspiration ends at not being our enemy. Will he be an agent for fighting our discrimination worldwide?
...LGBT Catholics who remain in the church now have more reason to hope that change is coming.
Really? In a year full of LGBT rights milestones -- where DOMA and Prop 8 fell, marriage equality surged forward, celebrities came out in droves, and brave activists stood up to toxic prejudice and hateful regimes across the country and around the world -- it's Pope Francis who's the "person of the year," simply for pulling slightly back from Benedict's bigotry? We're handing out accolades because someone makes us feel hopey-changey?
Come on. There are so many people who contributed much more to LGBT rights in 2013 than Francis did (Edie Windsor, Roberta Kaplan, Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo, Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Ted Olson, David Boies, Barack Obama, François Hollande, David Cameron, Greg Harris... I could go on).
The "Person of the Year" honor should have gone to one of them instead.