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social sciences

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Robinson, Svend (b. 1952)    
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Robinson himself recalled very little anti-gay sentiment in his encounters with voters. As he explained, "At a time when there is enormous cynicism about politicians and political leadership, I think there is a certain value placed on honesty. I have constituents say to me, 'Look, if you can be honest about this very fundamental, very personal matter, I expect you'd be honest with me about other things.'"

While political opponents continued to make veiled references to Robinson's sexuality--for example, the Liberal Party distributed campaign literature in 1993 describing him as a "bad influence on children"--Robinson himself continued to assert that sexual orientation played "no significant role," either negative or positive, in his subsequent campaigns.

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As one of the longest-serving members of the House of Commons, Robinson made many significant contributions to Canadian politics.

He played a crucial role in successfully advocating for the inclusion of women's rights in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights, and helped secure wording that would eventually be interpreted by the courts as protecting sexual minorities from discrimination.

Michael Valpy, a national political columnist for The Vancouver Sun, called Robinson the "architect of the Charter of Rights" and wrote that "No M.P. worked harder or more effectively to improve the constitutional proposals" than Robinson.

He was active on HIV/AIDS issues since the early 1980s, and successfully sponsored a bill in 2003 to include "sexual orientation" in the hate crimes sections of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Additionally, he was a long-time activist in the anti-apartheid movement and has been a leader in the legal fight for doctor-assisted suicide. A strong environmentalist, he has engaged in civil disobedience to block logging of old-growth forests in Haida Gwaii (commonly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) in 1985 and on Vancouver Island in 1993, for which he was sentenced to 14 days in jail.

In December 1997, Robinson and his partner of several years, Max Riveron, visited Galiano Island, one of the Canadian Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and British Columbia's Lower Mainland. While hiking alone one morning, Robinson fell off an 18-metre (or about 59 feet) cliff, shattering his jaw and breaking an ankle. Bleeding and in extreme pain, Robinson managed to drag himself through the rough terrain and found help.

Robinson credited his love for Riveron with giving him the fortitude and determination to survive this near-fatal accident.

Misfortune struck again on April 9, 2004. Robinson inexplicably stole a ring, valued at more than $21,000, from an auction house in Vancouver. Three days later, he contacted the auction house, but by then the police had already been notified and Robinson had been identified as the culprit.

He later held an emotional news conference with his partner Riveron at his side. He admitted to the theft and announced he was taking an indefinite medical leave of absence from politics. Robinson suggested that the theft was related to the post-traumatic stress of his hiking accident.

"Something just snapped in this moment of total, utter irrationality," Robinson explained during the nationally televised news conference.

He later pleaded guilty to a charge of theft over $5,000, for which he was given a conditional discharge, put on a one-year probation, ordered to continue psychiatric counseling and to serve 100 hours of community service.

Interviewed by his biographer, Graeme Truelove, Robinson later said that the theft could be viewed as a "good thing" for him.

"It forced me to confront the mental health challenges that I wasn't confronting, that I was just denying. And had I not done that, the consequences could have been fatal. And I'm still standing. . . . It was horrendous. It was a nightmare. But it probably was also life-saving."

Robinson did not run for reelection in 2004 and was instead employed by the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union as an advocate on behalf of public sector workers. He also served as the New Democratic Party's federal executive and as co-chair of the party's LGBT Committee.

In October 2005, however, Robinson announced that he was ready to re-enter politics and would seek the New Democratic Party nomination for his former seat in the House of Commons.

He revealed that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and wanted to return to Parliament to "champion the rights of the mentally ill."

"It's like coming out of the closet all over again," he stated. "This time it's bipolar disorder. The stigma, fear, lack of understanding and awareness are the same kinds of challenges I faced when I announced I was gay. Back then, my friends and colleagues thought I was committing political suicide. But I got reelected. My constituents respected my honesty. I believe that they will do the same this time around, too."

In the end, however, Robinson lost the election. He finished second in the race, with thirty percent of the vote.

Robinson then took a position with the global trade union federation Public Services International based in Ferney-Voltaire, France, where he moved with Riveron and their two dogs.

He is currently a consultant with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, based in Geneva, Switzerland, coordinating their Parliamentary relations.

Among the many awards in appreciation of his work, Robinson received the 1992 Award for Human Rights from the Lambda Foundation, as well as the 1997 Tom Stoddard National Role Model Award, given by PrideFest America. The award was named for Thomas B. Stoddard, the former executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1986 to 1992. Stoddard died in 1997 from complications due to AIDS.

Robinson was also the recipient of the Canadian Bar Association's 1999 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference Hero Award, in recognition of his outstanding achievements in advancing the cause of equality for the glbtq community in Canada.

He also received the 2009 Grand Prix d'Honneur of the Gay and Lesbian Quebec Council, and was the Co-President of the 2009 International LGBT Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen.

Craig Kaczorowski

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O'Neil, Peter. "The Legacy of Svend Robinson." The Vancouver Sun (September 14, 2013):

Rayside, David. "The Activist Roles of Svend Robinson." On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998. 179-214.

Rogers, June. "My Story: Canada's Surprising Mr. Robinson." BP Magazine (Spring 2006):

Truelove, Graeme. Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics. Vancouver: New Star Books, 2013.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Robinson, Svend  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2013  
    Date Last Updated September 30, 2013  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2013 glbtq, Inc.  


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