The Pope’s speech is just a start

By Jackson Hare, Education and Enrichment Coordinator

In an interview on January 24th, Pope Francis, in a radical, unheard of, and revolutionary shift, stated that being gay is not a crime. Headlines, activists, and Catholics who just don’t agree with that lifestyle are praising his fresh take on queer rights as a significant milestone for LGBT equality.  

However, I think it necessary to put a giant asterisk on every headline that says “Pope says being gay is not a crime,” because he was quite insistent that it was still a sin. In other words, in the Pope’s eyes being gay isn’t illegal, it’s just deeply immoral; simply a transgression against divine law, no biggie. 

That said, my issue with this situation is not what the pope said. For him to say being gay isn’t a crime, only to follow up urging that it’s still a sin, while it made me roll my eyes, is unshocking and typical behavior of the leaders of the Catholic church.  

What is infuriating, is how people have praised him for these rather contradictory and unremarkable statements. He made headlines and is being celebrated as a major proponent for queer rights, but queer advocates and non-profits who have worked tirelessly for years making far more progress for the queer community rarely get mentioned. 

Over 300 discriminatory anti-LGBT bills were introduced in 2022 across the U.S., and 91 percent failed to become law according to the Human Rights Campaign, and I highly doubt Pope Francis’ lackluster and backhanded statements regarding queer people had anything to do with it.  

We should be thanking these advocacy groups and non-profit organizations who dedicate themselves to improving the lived and legal equality of queer people. They didn’t simply say being queer isn’t a crime, they organized and valiantly fought against every piece of legislation that attempts to deem it so. Where are their headlines? 

On the other end, giving credit where credit is due, also means holding people accountable. Congratulations to the pope for his advocacy for queer people. He gets a gold star and a pat on the back. Now, let’s talk about the centuries of oppression the Catholic church has led and contributed to. These religious institutions know the significant role they play in public opinion, and with that they chose to foster anti-LGBT attitudes that have othered queer people and gotten them harmed or killed.   

As previously mentioned, the pope quickly contended with his comments, affirming that being gay is still a sin. These tend to be the same words spoken by parents to justify abandoning and kicking their child out the house. It’s the justification for subjecting young queer kids to conversion therapy despite years of research demonstrating the harm and trauma it causes. It’s the same language that entitles right wing extremists armed with AR-15s to stand outside of events where drag queens read children’s books to young kids. It’s the same language that leads to droves of homophobic parents to attend school board meetings to claim teachers are indoctrinating their kids by the mere presence of queer representation.  

The list goes on of course, but the most important thing to realize is that it’s this kind of language the slips into lawmakers minds when they write anti-LGBT legislation. We cannot deny the role religion has played in our country’s legislative process and these discriminatory bills are the culmination of it, and witnessing these consequences for decades, the best the pope can muster up is saying that being gay is not a crime but is a sin? 

If the pope wants to do something truly impactful for the queer community, then he should be advocating for dissolving and discrediting religious institutions’ involvement in government and policy making, and the Catholic church needs to make a far more significant leap towards accepting the queer community. Instead, he makes statements that reveal just how archaic and behind the times religious institutions are. They drag their feet as queer activists march forward and it significantly impairs the progress that can be made. That is not worth celebrating.