First out gay bishop Gene Robinson says God ‘called him out of the closet’

Bishop Gene Robinson

It has been more than 20 years science Gene Robinson made history and became the first openly gay bishop in the Christian Church.

The Kentucky native, who has since retired, became a global figure when he was elected bishop in 2003 to serve the Episcopal Church’s New Hampshire Diocese.

On the historic day, he wore a bullet-proof vest under his bishop’s vestments and he received his first death threat that evening. He was later labelled the most dangerous man in the Anglican church.

Gay American Bishop Gene Robinson walks past a sign near the market stall area of the Lambeth Conference at the University of Kent on July 21, 2008 in Canterbury, England.
Gene Robinson made history 20 years ago when he became the first openly gay bishop. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

Although it was controversial at the time – even prompting hundreds of parishes to leave the Episcopal Church – it sparked a movement. Since then, Robinson has dedicated his life to opening the Church to the LGBTQ+ community and vice versa.

Today, there are five openly gay bishops in the Church – an achievement that Robinson jokingly refers to as his “legacy”.

Robinson came out as gay in 1986 – 13 years after he was ordained a priest.

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In a new interview with CBS News, Robinson said that remaining closeted didn’t seem like an option for him and that it was God who “called him out of the closet.”

While he may have been the first openly gay bishop, Robinson, 76, told the news outlet that he certainly wasn’t the first gay one.

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“There have been a lot of us, let’s just be clear,” he said. “I’m just the first openly gay one.”

Bishop Gene Robinson
Robinson came out as gay in 1986 – 13 years after he was ordained a priest. (Getty Images)

Explaining what gave him the courage to come out after being ordained, he said: “It’s an awful thing to stand in a pulpit and encourage people to live authentic lives when you know you’re not being authentic. It’s why I felt God called me out of the closet.”

Recalling the controversy that ensued, he said: “We forget what a big deal it was and how hard it was and how many people were opposed, and the pain it caused a lot of people.”

While he would have preferred to be known as a “good bishop” rather than “the gay bishop”, Robinson says he knew that it wasn’t up to him.

“The media was going to make me the gay bishop whether I liked it or not. So, what I decided was, if I was gonna be the gay bishop, then I’d be the best damn gay bishop that I could ever be!”

Today, Robinson can look back fondly on the choices he has made, the life he has led, and the people he has inspired.

Bishop Gene Robinson
“I felt God called me out of the closet,” said retired bishop Gene Robinson on coming out as gay. (Getty Images)

He has already been honoured for his tireless work within both the LGBTQ+ community and the Church with a small chapel built in his name at St Thomas Episcopal Church.

Inside the chapel there is a repository for the ashes of select members of the congregation, according to CBS. And there is already a box with Robinson’s name on it.

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“There’s something just lovely about knowing that that’s all settled,” said the retired bishop.

“And it’s, you know, just right next to the altar of the Bishop Gene Robinson Chapel. How could I want more than that?”

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