KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 24, 2014 – Gene Robinson, whose election as the country’s first openly gay Episcopal bishop sparked an international uproar, will speak at the University of Rhode Island next month at a weeklong symposium hosted by the LGBTQ Center.
Robinson, who stepped down from his post last year and is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, will give the keynote speech Sunday, Feb. 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 35 Lower College Road, on the Kingston campus. The talk is free and open to the public.
“Having Bishop Robinson with us to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our LGBTQ Center symposium is a dream come true,” said Annie Russell, director of the LGBTQ Center. “Bishop Robinson reflects the honor, strength and endurance of an advocate for all people in the world. Through his story, we can become reaffirmed in the promise of hope and inclusion.”
Robinson was elected bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, becoming the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. His consecration was so controversial it sparked an historic rift between theological liberals and conservatives in the worldwide Anglican Communion, whose U.S. branch is the Episcopal Church. Some Episcopalians abandoned the church; others rallied behind Robinson.
Citing the strain of the controversy, including death threats, Robinson retired in January 2013 when he was 65, seven years younger than the usual retirement age for an Episcopal bishop. He is still in the public eye and remains a vocal advocate for the gay rights movement.
In a YouTube video before he retired, Robinson urged gay and lesbian people “in a dark place” to stay strong. “I am an out and proud man who is also bishop of New Hampshire,” he said. “And I am living proof that it gets better, and that it is getting better. Things are changing.”
Born in Kentucky to parents who were sharecroppers on a tobacco farm, Robinson studied for a master of divinity degree from the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York. In his book, Going to Heaven, he writes about his early struggle with his sexual orientation, his calling into the church, and the tumultuous events surrounding his election as bishop.
Over the years, Robinson has spoken and lobbied for equal protection under the law and full civil marriage rights. He was invited by President Barack Obama to give the invocation at inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009.
A documentary on Robinson’s ministry, “Love Free or Die,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. Robinson’s latest book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage, was published in 2012.
“My friend, Bishop Gene Robinson, has long been a voice for equality – not with anger or vitriol, but with compassion and faith,” President Barack Obama wrote in the book’s preface. “He has been guided by the simple precept that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
As a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive research and policy organization based in Washington D.C., he writes and talks about LGBTQ issues and faith. He is the father of two grown daughters from his first marriage, to a woman. Robinson and his longtime partner, Mark Andrew, married in 2010 when marriage equality came to New Hampshire.
Other events are planned throughout the week.
Thupten Tendhar, of URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, will give a meditation workshop on Feb. 11, from 11 a.m. to noon, in Room 313 at the Memorial Union. From 4 to 6 p.m., writer Annie Rachelle Lanzillotto will talk about her book L is for Lion in Room 170 at the College of Pharmacy. From 7 to 9 p.m., there will be a screening of “Love Free or Die” in Room 170, also at the College of Pharmacy.
AIDS Project RI will offer free and confidential HIV testing on Feb. 12, from 3 to 5 p.m., at Health Services, 6 Butterfield Road, on the Kingston campus. Also on Feb. 12, Steve Stonearrow will talk about the Native American tradition of two spirit identities from 5 to 7 p.m., in Room 360 at the Memorial Union. This identity, which transcends ideas of gender, is revered in the Native American community.
Writer Joy Ladin will talk about trans-identities in the Jewish faith on Feb. 13, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Norman M. Fain Hillel Center. She will also discuss her book, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders.
The LGBTQ Center will host a community breakfast on Feb. 14, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at the Center for Biotechnology & Life Sciences. From 1 to 2 p.m. in Room 318 of the Memorial Union, Rabbi Peter Stein will talk about the memory of oppression. Also on Feb. 14, there will be a dinner at 7 p.m. at the Multicultural Center, followed by a Queer Prom at 8 p.m.
Photo: Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, will speak Feb. 9 at 2 p.m., at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of BProud Photography in Philadelphia.