Vicki Gene Robinson was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, on May 29, 1947. His name honors his parents Victor and Imogene, and he has refused to make it more elegantly masculine by changing it. His parents worked as tenant farmers on tobacco farms. A difficult birth process left him with a misshapen skull and great surprise at his surviving infancy. He grew up sensitive to poverty and the strict race and class structure of rural life as well as devoted to his pediatrician and a small congregation of Disciples of Christ.
His youth appears quite normal for a bright, energetic and poor farmboy. The school band gave him an outlet for his ambition and developed his leadership abilities. He received a full scholarship to attend the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. There he continued his musical leadership with the band but also discovered his passion for social justice and for the Episcopal Church, being confirmed in 1968. In 1969, Gene graduated from Sewanee and entered the General Theological Seminary in New York.
After two years of seminary, Gene spent a summer traveling in Europe and then went to serve as Chaplain at the University of Vermont. During that year he met, dated and proposed marriage to Isabella "Boo" Martin. He reports that he shared openly with her his fears about his sexuality but they decided to deal with them later and together. He says that he had realized his attraction to men back in the seventh grade but also knew that he had to keep it secret. He and Boo were married at the end of the summer 1972 and returned to General for his senior year.
Upon graduation, Gene took the position of Curate at Christ Church, a large parish in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in the progressive diocese of Newark. There he devoted himself to youth work, pastoral care and preaching for the usual two years.
Then he and Boo decided to return to her native New Hampshire and established a horse farm and conference center called The Sign of the Dove. While running the retreat center, Gene also wrote a pamphlet on Christian sexuality and worked as Secretary for Province I (New England) of the Episcopal Church.
The Robinsons had two daughters, Jamee in 1977 and Ella in 1981. In 1986, they decided to separate. Neither was involved with anyone else, but Gene felt that Boo "deserved . heterosexual .love." Typically, they announced their separation to friends and Church authorities and created a liturgy for divorce, which centered on prayers of forgiveness and absolution and the Eucharist. Gene sold his part of the Dove to Boo and went to work as Canon to the Ordinary (assistant to the bishop) for Douglas Theuner, Bishop of New Hampshire.
Gene continued as Canon in New Hampshire for almost seventeen years when on June 7, 2003, he was elected to serve as the next Bishop after Theuner's retirement. He had earlier been nominated in the elections in Newark (1998) and Rochester (NY 1999). In New Hampshire, he won the necessary majority of ballots from the clergy on the first ballot and from the laity on the second (this feat often takes 5 or 6 ballots) - a clear expression of the diocesan people's love and respect for him. In early July, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted by a slim majority to approve (a normal procedure) the election.
Gene faced hate-mail, death threats and some accusations of "inappropriate behavior". These accusations were dismissed immediately by full investigations. The opposition to The Gay Bishop continues. Gene wore a bullet-proof vest for his consecration November 2, 2003; the media crowd made it necessary to hold the event in a hockey rink, the largest enclosed space in the state of New Hampshire. The latest episode in this opposition is the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent decision to deny Gene's participation in the Lambeth gathering of world-wide Anglican bishops in 2008. All other bishops except for one vocal schismatic have been invited.
The story of Bishop Gene Robinson goes on as he works to guide the diocese he has served for twenty years and as he acts as a very public gay man, taking leadership for such advocacy programs as Integrity, Human Rights Campaign, etc., living as a universal celebrity. His personal life has been blessed since 1995 by Mark Andrew -- whom he met on a St. Croix beach-- a social worker who accompanies the bishop on his visitations and lecture tours.
Gene Robinson has been vilified and called "the Devil" and "the most dangerous man in the Episcopal Church". In response, he repeatedly smiles with his usual joyous laugh and says "All we can do is to love them." Also, he often says, "I think it is fascinating, that so many people would not see the idea of a loving, forgiving God as 'good news'. That is exactly what happened to Jesus. The people who did not see God that way were the ones who crucified Him."
(This bio statement was written by Jerrald L. Townsend; June 17, 2007. Source: Elizabeth Adams, Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson, Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn NY, 2006. Photo credit: Geoff Forester.)