US: First openly gay Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson, retires after 10 years

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The US Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, retired from his post on Saturday, after almost ten years.

New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, 65, steps down after advocating for equality for years. His election as the first openly gay bishop, back in 2003, caused an international uproar, but he said he was glad to have gone on to speak out in favour of equality, reports

“I’d been given this really remarkable opportunity, and it would be selfish of me not to be the best steward of that opportunity,” he said in a recent interview.

He reflected on the changes he saw since he was consecrated in 2003, up until today, saying:

“We went from my consecration, which set off this international controversy, to nine years later seeing gay, lesbian and transgender congregants welcome at all levels of the church, including bishop.”

He advocated for equality until very recently, as in late December, he said that Jesus would have approved of gay families and of LGBT relationships in general.

During an appearance on Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Bishop Robinson said of Jesus.

“Here’s a guy who, in a culture that virtually demanded marriage, was a single guy, spent most of his time with twelve men, singled out three of them for leadership and one of them is known in the Bible as ‘the one whom Jesus loved,’”

Because of several death threats, Bishop Robinson wore a bullet proof vest to his consecration.

In 2008, despite a lack of invitation, he travelled to the UK for the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of bishops and clergy which occurs every ten years.

He said it pained him deeply to have been the only bishop since 1867 to had not been invited, but that he wanted to make his presence known, and minister to anyone who wanted his counsel.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve done — to go and bear up under that quite intentional exclusion,” Robinson said. “It took me a long time to get over it.”

Gene Robinson worked in the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese for 27 years, and said he would have stayed on until the mandatory retirement age of 72, had he been the only openly gay bishop out of the 300 worldwide, but as he is not, he said “now I can move on to do other things.”

The position is to be filled by A Robert Hirschfeld, with his investiture as the tenth Bishop of New Hampshire taking place on Saturday.

Gene Robinson will go on to be a part-time senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, where he will focus on immigration, health care reform, poverty and LGBT issues.