The Advocate's Person of the Year: 'Idiotic' or 'Important?'

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com December 19 2013 5:00 AM ET

We knew that naming Pope Francis The Advocate's Person of the Year would spark conversation both within and outside our readership. And judging by the international discussion we've seen since the pick was announced on Monday, that's exactly what the decision did. Even among The Advocate's editors, naming the Pope as our Person of the Year was highly debated before reaching an agreement.

From media outlets around the globe — including Al Jazeera, The Guardian, the U.K. Independent, Reuters, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporationto local and national news outlets spanning the ideological spectrum from Fox News and even Rush Limbaugh to MSNBC, The Huffington Post, Good Morning America and the New York Times, the selection of Pope Francis as the Person of the Year has drawn criticism, ire, gratitude, and in some cases, consternation. 

As our editorial director, Lucas Grindley, wrote in the article announcing Pope Francis as the honoree, regardless of the Catholic Church's long history of rabid anti-LGBT rhetoric, Pope Francis has adopted a decidedly less hostile tone. 

"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," wrote Grindley. "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."

Indeed, the reaction to The Advocate's proclamation on the pontiff has been global in scale. The U.K. Independent noted that Tuesday was the pontiff's 77th birthday, calling the pope our December "coverstar," and billing The Advocate as "a leading lifestyle magazine that actively promotes gay rights."

MSNBC anchor Lawrence O'Donnell called our selection of a pope as Person of the Year as "inconceivable" before Francis came along in a segment Tuesday.

Father James Martin, the Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell's resident chaplain, told the anchor he's pleased both Time and The Advocate put the pope on the cover. "He's drawing people to the Church, more importantly, he's drawing people to God," said Martin on the MSNBC program Tuesday. "I think it's fantastic. And if The Advocate puts him on the cover, and Time magazine, if that draws more people to him and to God, great."

A writer at the Daily Kos agreed with our assessment that Pope Francis' rhetorical shift could indicate an important departure from longstanding Church-based homophobia. "Francis is certainly not what I would call a 'progressive' on these matters, but compared to some of his predecessors, he's positively radical in his insistence on treating all people with dignity," writes user commonmass. "With 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, what the Pope says matters. The Advocate gets that, and so should we. I never thought I'd see a Pope named Person of the Year by an LGBT publication. Times, they are a changin'."

Evan Hurst, the associate director of Truth Wins Out, said Pope Francis "is exactly the right choice for the magazine’s Person Of The Year." Granting all due respect to those who disagree and fight religious-based anti-LGBT sentiment, Hurst notes that while Catholic doctrine hasn't changed under Francis' young papacy, the official tone coming from the Holy See most certainly has. 

"And in this case, the tone perhaps matters the most," writes Hurst. "The doctrine hasn’t changed, but the leading anti-gay Catholic voices in the West are now playing defense. He’s not a pro-gay hero yet, but he’s certainly not an anti-gay hero either. For the first time in many, many years, the head of the Catholic Church is a man who seems to most people, Catholic or non-, to be an all around good guy who wants to lead the Church away from being known primarily as an anti-gay, anti-woman institution."

But critics of the decision were forthright in their disagreement. 

Fellow LGBT media outlets were by and large less than thrilled with our decision. Sean Bugg at MetroWeekly called the pick "a deeply silly choice." Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches said our selection was "a mistake," saying the pick delivered "a big bag of whut? for this liberal Catholic."

Michaelangelo Signorile, an outspoken LGBT activist, writer, and radio host of his own progressive show on SiriusXM, penned an op-ed for Gay Voices, the Huffington Post section for which he serves as an editor-at-large, bluntly titled "No, Pope Francis Is Not the LGBT Person of the Year."

Signorile acknowledges that the best thing about this LGBT publication naming Pope Francis its person of the year is that it's driven right-winger Bill Donahue of the Catholic League "into a vessel-popping rage." 

"But mostly, this was idiotic," Signorile continues. "Pope Francis is a lot of things to many people in the world. But he is not our hero of the LGBT community in 2013. Can we please get a grip, folks? Are we that starved for validation?"

Our story never used the word "hero," but the pope simultanesouly made another list written by LGBT activist Richard Socarides for the New Yorker, titled "The Top Ten Gay-Rights Heroes of 2013."

The Advocate is often a target for right-wing complaints about the so-called gay agenda, in this instance, it was our support for the pope that incited one of the conservative movement's most audacious talking heads to spit venom in our direction.

Rush Limbaugh lovingly referred to those of us who work at The Advocate as "an in-your-face bunch, journalistically speaking." Then the right-wing radio host uncovered what he thinks is our ultimate goal in applauding the pope's tolerance. 

"They're jealous of the anti-capitalists on the left," said Limbaugh on his eponymous radio show Tuesday. "The pope has moved their way, so they think this pope is movable… They hope they can induce the pope to move even further away from the church's doctrine. That's what's going on."

We weren't aware we had such influence over the papacy — especially since the Vatican has declined to respond to our honoring the pope. But for once, perhaps, we can agree with Limbaugh that we hope to keep nudging Pope Francis, the Catholic Church, and conservatives of faith into full acceptance and support of LGBT rights.