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Robinson, V. Gene (b. 1947)  
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The Right Reverend Gene Robinson is the first--and, so far, only--openly gay man to be consecrated a bishop of the Episcopal Church. His election was strongly supported by the members of the New Hampshire diocese that he has long served, but it has become a contentious issue among conservatives within the Anglican Communion.

Robinson comes from a family of modest means. His parents, Victor and Imogene Robinson, were sharecroppers on a tobacco farm in Fayette County, Kentucky.

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Robinson's birth on May 29, 1947 was an extremely difficult one. After six doctors were unable to deliver him, a pediatrician used forceps to bring him into the world, albeit paralyzed on one side and with a crushed skull from the procedure. The pediatrician molded the baby's head into a normal shape in order not to add to the grief of the young parents, who he expected would soon be burying their infant.

When hospital personnel asked Victor Robinson for the name to put on the birth and death certificates of his son, he used the name that he and his wife had chosen for a hoped-for daughter, Vicki Jean, but changed the spelling of the middle name to Gene. The infelicity of the first name seemed irrelevant under the circumstances.

Even after Robinson survived a month in an incubator and his paralysis abated, doctors warned his parents to continue to expect the worst. They said "that I would never walk or talk, that I would be a total vegetable," stated Robinson. As a result, his father eventually told him, "I couldn't take any joy in you and your development because I always thought each step was going to be the last thing."

Despite the dire predictions, Robinson grew up to be a healthy, normal child. He did well academically in school and also showed musical talent, singing in a quartet and playing clarinet in award-winning school bands.

Robinson's academic excellence earned him acceptance at prestigious Princeton University, but because he was offered only a half-scholarship, his family could not afford to send him there. Instead, he took a full scholarship at the University of the South, an Episcopal college in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Robinson had grown up as a devout member of the church of the Disciples of Christ. The evangelical church, to which his parents still belong, was an important source of support to the people in the hard-scrabble region from which he came. "The church was probably the only community anybody had outside of blood kin," stated Robinson.

During the summers, the community gathered for revival meetings led by itinerant preachers. At one such meeting, the twelve-year-old Robinson accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and was baptized.

Robinson entered the University of the South in 1965 as a pre-med student with the intention of becoming a pediatrician. He soon realized, however, that his true calling was to the priesthood, and he changed his concentration to American Studies. He felt at home in the Episcopal Church and was confirmed in that faith in his senior year. After graduating in 1969 he embarked upon studies for the ministry at the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Robinson had recognized his homosexual orientation at a young age but repressed it out of fear of rejection by the members of his extremely conservative community. "Growing up, there was no one to say, 'Yes, I can be gay, and Christian, and a real contributor to the community,'" he recalled, "So at the age of twelve or thirteen, I began doing what an awful lot of us of that era did: we started pretending to be someone we weren't. We learned to pretend to be developing in the ways other kids were, which leads to a kind of self-isolation and self-alienation that is pretty horrible."

After entering the seminary, Robinson spent two years in psychological therapy, trying to change his sexual orientation.

Robinson spent his third year as a seminarian interning at the University of Vermont as a chaplain. While there, he met and began dating a student, Isabella Martin. "Desperately want[ing] to get married and have kids," Robinson was eager for the relationship to succeed. He was honest with Martin, though, telling her early on that his previous relationships had been with other men. He believed, however, that he had reached the point of being ready to be a good husband. After discussing the situation, Robinson and Martin became engaged, and they married the following summer.

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Gene Robinson in San Francisco in 2005.
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