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social sciences

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Robinson, V. Gene (b. 1947)  
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Robinson received his divinity degree in 1973. He was ordained as a deacon in June of that year and as a priest in December.

Robinson's first post was in a Ridgewood, New Jersey church where he served as assistant to the rector. He was successful at parish ministry, but after about a year, he decided to take a new course: he and his wife bought part of her parents' New Hampshire farm to establish a retreat center, The Sign of the Dove. Financing the project was difficult, but Robinson's vision and commitment drew supporters and allowed him to set up a highly successful program. "It was a wonderful addition to the diocese," said the Reverend Randy Dales, "and many, many congregations utilized it."

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Robinson and his wife are the parents of two daughters, Jamee and Ella, born in 1977 and 1981, respectively. He rejoiced in caring for the children. Babies "probably bring out my maternal instincts," he quipped.

Although he could joke later on, at the time Robinson struggled with the fact that despite his genuine affection for his wife, his joy in fatherhood, and his attempts to change his sexual orientation, he could no longer deny that he was gay. Reading John Fortunato's Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys for Gay Christians (1982), he said, "changed my life" and "unlocked the rest of my life for me." Robinson was finally at peace with the idea that God loved him as he was, a gay man.

While Robinson was coming to terms with his homosexuality, he and his wife went through several years of therapy before concluding in 1986 that divorce would be best for both of them. When they received their divorce decree, they were accompanied by a priest, to whose church they then went for a special ceremony in which they promised to work together in raising their children, returned their wedding rings to each other, and received Communion together.

In addition to running retreats at the Sign of the Dove, Robinson had spent seven years as Youth Ministries Coordinator for seven New England dioceses (1978-1985) and had become the Executive Secretary of Province I of the church in 1983, but he feared that he might not be able to continue as a priest once it was known that he was divorcing because he was gay. Robinson and his soon-to-be-ex-wife went together to discuss the situation with their bishop.

The Right Reverend Douglas Theuner later stated, "Now, this was 1986, so I could have said, 'Well, fella, you're out altogether.' But that never occurred to me to do, frankly."

In fact, Theuner was so impressed with Robinson--"I've never met anybody yet who didn't recognize his competence," he stated--that in 1988 he took him on as his Canon to the Ordinary (i.e., executive assistant).

In that role, Robinson successfully undertook numerous projects, including AIDS education, clergy wellness, and combating prejudice in all its forms. Louie Crew, the founder of Integrity, an organization of glbtq Episcopalians and their allies, believes that Robinson was effective because "he was in a class all by himself--not drawing attention to himself, but in group process, in getting people to understand what conflicts we needed to resolve, what vision we needed to shape, and all the while never dropping a stitch from the tapestry we were trying to weave together, because he kept track of them all. He's brilliant, and extremely sensitive to people's needs without being maudlin about it: this wonderful sense of inspiring the best that you can do working together."

In addition to having success in his work, Robinson found happiness in his personal life. In 1986, needing to use or lose his frequent-flyer miles, he went to St. Croix after seeing a travel ad in The Advocate, and he met Mark Andrew, who was then working at the Peace Corps office in Washington, D.C. After a year and a half of long-distance dating, Andrew moved to New Hampshire to share his life with Robinson.

Andrew worked in a New Hampshire HIV/AIDS program and subsequently got a job with the state's Department of Safety.

Robinson's work in the diocese of New Hampshire and the wider church impressed people so much that many suggested that he would make a good bishop. Robinson himself had been feeling such a vocation. After prayerful consideration and discussions with his family and colleagues including Bishop Theuner--all of whom were extremely supportive--he decided to become a candidate for the episcopate.

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