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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Organization screens film on first gay bishop

A bishop clothed in traditional, religious vestments strides to the front of the altar, raises his arms in a gesture of welcome to the assembled congregants. A traditional sight Sundays in churches around the world, but St. Mary's, Putney in London welcomed a very nontraditional bishop.

Bishop Gene Robinson began to preach, telling the congregants, "There is a lot of fear around, have you noticed? ... It is an astounding thing, fear, and it does terrible things to us. Perhaps it is the Church that is acting most fearful right now."

As he drew breath to continue, a man in the second row stands up to scream anti-gay obscenities at the bishop until the rest of the congregants rose to their feet and drowned out his tirade with a powerfully-sung hymn, accompanied by the church's organist until the man was thrown out of the church.

This interaction is featured prominently in the film, "Love Free or Die," which members of GALA-ND/SMC gathered to watch and discuss with Bishop Gene Robinson himself Saturday afternoon. The movie tells the story of Robinson's work to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) inclusion within his church, the Episcopalian Church, the Anglican Communion and the United States at large, while living his life with his partner Mark Andrew and their two daughters.

Robinson said he has tried to live his life as a witness to the integrity of homosexual relationships and homosexuals everywhere, so that his example might change people's minds and open their hearts.

"When we discuss this issue as an issue, you can be all over the map," Robinson said. "But when you know a real person, or when you know a real relationship there is nothing that speaks more powerfully than that. [Gay-rights activist] Harvey Milk said that coming out was the most political thing that you could do. Not standing on a soapbox, but just simply coming out and living your life openly so that people know you and know what values you hold. He predicted it would change the world and that is exactly what he's doing."

His private life has been brought further into the world stage during his time as a bishop of the Episcopalian Church, but this spotlight has only extended the power of the love he and his partner live out in their lives, Robinson said.

"I had 16 or 17 years of living it more privately before I was thrust onto the world stage, so I wasn't just a newbie - I didn't come out the day I was elected bishop," Robinson said. "What I discovered during that time was that the example of me and my partner and the love that we shared and the way we raised our children changed people's lives locally, people that we knew, and so when you get on the larger stage it just broadens the number of people [that you touch].

"They might not know you that well, but they can see what you're doing, see what you believe in, by how you conduct your life and all of a sudden they're unwilling to believe in all those terrible things that have been said about gay and lesbian people."
The film evidenced how Robinson directed much of his efforts toward broadening the acceptance within the Episcopal Church for homosexuals, specifically by advocating for the creation of a liturgy to bless same-sex unions and the official willingness to ordain homosexual clergy.

On July, 12, 2012, the Episcopal Church approved an "official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions, enabling priests who have the approval of their bishops to bestow the church's blessing on gay couples whether they live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal or not," according to a July 10, 2012 article by the New York Times.

Since Robinson's ordination, one other openly partnered homosexual bishop has been elected. Mary Glasspool was elected a bishop for the Diocese of Los Angeles on December 4, 2009 as the 17th female bishop and first lesbian bishop chosen within the Episcopal Church.

Throughout his work, Robinson has faced opposition taking the form of everything from the open hatred displayed by the man in St. Mary's, Putney, to relatively civil disagreement like that displayed by Bishop Robert Duncan, his colleague in the seminary. Duncan led the departure of his diocese from the Episcopal Church in 2008, which was renamed the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Robinson said this Duncan has voiced opinions to the House of Bishops that he not only disagrees with, but knows to be untrue.

"I think the division in our church, these people who left, that had a lot more to do with control and power than anything religious," Robinson said. "They would claim otherwise, so we would have to disagree about that. Now they're fighting over the ordination of women ... once you allow schism to be the remedy, there's no end to it. ... I think leaving the table at this day and time is maybe the worst sin, because if we all stay at the table and are willing to talk about these things we will find a way through them."

Though he has faced extreme opposition even in the form of death threats and an assassination attempt, Robinson he has felt God's presence and love throughout his advocacy work and time as a bishop.

"I know it sounds like a cliché, but God has seemed palpably close during all of this. Sometimes, so close that prayer seems almost redundant," Robinson said. "I've tried to be in touch with God through my prayer life and to let God be in touch with me.

"Someone gave me a piece of calligraphy that said sometimes God calms the storm, but sometimes God lets the storm rage and calms his child. I feel that's what God has done, quieted my heart and kept me calm in the middle of this raging storm."

Robinson said the success of the movement for LGBTQ inclusion and the work of individuals like himself depends on the strength of their straight allies.

"I think this is one of the most important things of all," Robinson said. We will never be more than a very tiny minority and we need desperately our straight allies to advocate for us because it's the right thing, because they know us and know what our values are. You'll be in places where we're not even welcome. It's sort of like in the '60s, with racism, people started to - when someone would tell a racist joke - to say, 'You're not going to talk that way around me and if you're going to talk that way I'm not going to be around you.'"

Refusing to remain silent when anti-gay sentiment manifests itself is how straight allies can speak up for their LGBTQ neighbors and tangibly change how they are incorporated into society and its institutions, Robinsons aid.

"I think straight allies have to come out too, that is to say to come out as an ally," Robinson said. "And sometimes, they will experience too some of the negative reaction that has been a part of our lives for a very long time."

Robinson said the biggest changes will happen when LGBTQ individuals show the world that the love and acceptance they hope to receive will be mirrored in their acceptance and love of their own identities.

"I think the main thing is to be who you are, as boldly and as resolutely as you can. To not walk around with your head down as if you're ashamed of who you are, but to be proud and to live your life as fully as you can," Robinson said. "That will change more people's minds than you will ever know. People are watching all the time, they're learning all the time - the question is what they are learning about you as a gay or a lesbian or a bisexual or a transgender person.

"I think in large part the degree to which we are accepted is in direct proportion to how much we accept ourselves."