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social sciences

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Robinson, V. Gene (b. 1947)  
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The first five times that he participated in the election process, he received strong consideration but was not nominated, mainly because the dioceses were wary of the controversy that would inevitably come with the prospect of an openly gay bishop. Robinson did receive nominations in the dioceses of Newark, New Jersey and Rochester, New York in 1998 and 1999, respectively, but was not elected.

In 2003 Robinson was one of five nominees for bishop of New Hampshire. With a strong show of support from the people whom he had long served, he won a majority of both the clergy and lay ballots at the election convention on June 7.

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The election needed to be ratified at the General Convention of the church in August. Approval is usually routine, but in Robinson's case the ensuing two months were tumultuous. Some conservative Episcopalians, including a group of bishops known as the American Anglican Council, were vocal in their opposition to Robinson. In July an international group of conservative Anglican clergy--many from the southern hemisphere--issued a statement that if Robinson's election were confirmed and if liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions were adopted at the upcoming General Convention, it "would shatter the church," a statement that was in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy since events would prove that they were prepared to do exactly that.

Robinson not only came under close scrutiny but was also the subject of various false reports, including ones that he had abandoned his wife and family for Andrew and that he was responsible for a web site that was two links away from a site with pornographic content.

The first claim was vigorously denied by his family. Indeed, Ella Robinson spoke before the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops and read a letter of support from her mother. Church leaders investigating the second charge quickly determined that although Robinson had co-founded Concord Outright, a support organization for glbtq teens, in 1995, he had not been involved with the group since 1998 and that the link in question on their web site had been added years later.

At the last moment Robinson's confirmation was nearly derailed when a man accused him of "homosexual harassment" in the form of inappropriate touching at a meeting of Province I in 1999. Bishop Gordon Scruton investigated the allegation and discovered that the touching consisted of Robinson's placing a hand on the complainant's arm or back during two conversations. Although the accuser said that the contact, which took place in public, made him uncomfortable, "he acknowledged," wrote Scruton, "that other people could have seen the exchange as natural and normal." The man declined to make a formal charge against Robinson. With the matter closed, the House of Bishops proceeded to the vote on Robinson, who was elected by a comfortable margin.

Robinson's election set off a media frenzy as print and broadcast news outlets clamored for interviews. After Robinson returned to New Hampshire, he was deluged with mail. Some of it was hateful, and some writers even made death threats, but Robinson also received scores of letters and e-mails each day from glbtq people, many of whom felt that it was too risky for them to come out of the closet but who found encouragement in Robinson's election.

In advance of his consecration on November 2, 2003, Robinson made a point of visiting as many of the parishes in his diocese as possible in order to meet with church members and respond to their questions and concerns personally.

Due to intense media interest, Robinson's consecration ceremony took place at the 6,000-seat Whittemore Center, the hockey rink of the University of New Hampshire, the largest venue available in the area. Because of the threats against Robinson, police provided high security, but no violence occurred. The notoriously Baptist preacher Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas turned up with about a dozen protesters, but they were far outnumbered by some 300 University of New Hampshire students staging a counter-protest.

Robinson stated, "It's important to note that the day before the consecration I received a note from Matthew Shepard's mother, which was just so meaningful to me. In it she said, 'I know that Matthew will be smiling down upon you tomorrow.' I think of that in relation to what Fred Phelps is doing."

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