Person of the Year Pope Francis: Valuing Rainbows over Rulebooks

Written by scott on December 17th, 2013

Pope FrancisI spent a good chunk of my 2009 and 2010 working — and ultimately failing — to get Prop 8 repealed in California through the ballot box. Our grassroots campaign, called Restore Equality 2010, had volunteers and energy, but never enough money or time to collect the signatures we needed to put Proposition 8 before voters in November 2010.

While we collected signatures to try and overturn Prop 8, California’s largest gay rights organization stopped fighting. Instead, it used its bully pulpit and millions in donations to kick off a campaign to “change hearts and minds,” literally going door to door to attempt to sway California voters away from their antigay stances. Rather than fight for a change in vote, they pursued a change in sentiment.

That campaign didn’t overturn Prop 8 either.

I dredge up this recent history in light of The Advocate’s decision to lionize Pope Francis as their 2013 person of the year. I had to do a double take when I saw it posted on social media – wasn’t 2013 the year of unprecedented achievement for LGBT equality in the United States? Wasn’t this the year when Californians regained marriage rights and the Supreme Court overturned President Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), blowing open the doors to federal recognition of the marriages of untold numbers of same sex couples? That’s the 2013 in which America’s most prominent gay magazine chooses to recognize the Pope?

The Advocate decision reflects my experiences with the strain of the gay community that fetishizes words over actions, and symbolism over tangible gains. In defense of the selection, The Advocate’s Lucas Grindley wrote that we cannot “underestimate any pope’s capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people.” To borrow one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings, open minds and ten cents will get you a phone call.

I grew up Catholic. I spent too much of my childhood thinking I might go to hell (I know, what Catholic hasn’t?), but I also grew up in a parish whose priests placed primary emphasis on charity, equality, forgiveness, and nonviolence. I actually reflect quite fondly on those lessons from my religious upbringing, and from that perspective, I actually think pretty highly of Pope Francis. I feel Pope Francis was a compelling choice for Time’s Person of the Year – the poor and disenfranchised need an advocate like him in 2013. But for The Advocate to choose him? In a whirlwind year of state and federal gains for LGBT Americans? The Advocate’s choice is the same foolhardy valuing of rainbows over rulebooks. Or perhaps, more cynically, it’s a more commercial calculation of valuing of revenue over recognition.

In its decision, The Advocate writes “LGBT Catholics who remain in the church now have more reason to hope that change is coming.” In 2013, forget hope. We’ve known for 35 years that we can’t live on hope alone. Change arrived in the United States in 2013. Change arrived thanks to Edie Windsor and her legal team. Change arrived thanks to Ted Olson, David Boies, their plaintiffs, and the American Foundation for Equal Rights, who in 2009 and 2010 didn’t work to collect signatures or change hearts in minds, but instead forged a legal path to victory. Change arrived thanks to everyone who fought and contributed to the legal efforts that killed Prop 8, overturned key provisions of DOMA, and realized marriage equality in several other states in 2013. In that change are your persons of the year for 2013.

So to The Advocate, you can have your hope. I’ll take my rights.

Ian Hart lives in San Francisco, the City of St. Francis, with his legally wedded husband and their two kids.


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