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Q-and-A With Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson

Q: Do you remember the Stonewall riots?

Bishop Robinson: I started seminary in the fall of 1969. Yes, I remember them, but I was not out. I came out in fall 1986. Life before Stonewall was scary, indeed. When I was growing up, ‘homosexual’ wasn’t even a word you said out loud. Anyone who was ‘that way’ either committed suicide or wound up a drug addict or alcoholic.

Q: What’s the significance of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots?

Bishop Robinson:
The younger generation should know that there was a price to be paid for our freedom, as there always is for any civil-rights struggle: jail time, abuse, job loss, abandonment. Harvey Milk is an example of someone who paid with his life. We are the beneficiaries of that.

Q: What’s the importance of role models for the LGBT community?

Bishop Robinson:
They are very important. Harvey Milk was the first person in my consciousness, in his example as a gay-rights leader and role model. It’s important to appreciate those who came before and to acknowledge how much we stand on the shoulders of those who paved roads before us.

Q: What are some of the concerns of the older LGBT community?

Bishop Robinson:
We have to make sure there are LGBT-friendly retirement homes. Coupled or alone, some older LGBTs face pressure to return to the closet when they get older. How sad to think of the progress you’ve made in life, only to have to go back in a closet when you’re older.

Q: Is Stonewall an important symbol for the LGBT community?

Bishop Robinson: Absolutely. It certainly is for me. In fact, if I am anywhere near the Stonewall Inn, I walk by. I still find it a very moving place. It’s a physical reminder of who I am. I would not be the Bishop of New Hampshire if not for the disenfranchised and drag queens throwing rocks and fighting back. We owe our freedom in part to their frustration and actions at that time.

Q: What are your thoughts about the ongoing fight for LGBT equality?

Bishop Robinson:
Of course, progress doesn’t move in a straight line up for any oppressed group. Civil rights progression is always two steps forward, two steps back. It’s important for people to think about the fact that movements take time. I think we need to toughen up, since, of course, it’s going to be hard. We need to steel ourselves for the resistance we still face.

Q: If there’s one lesson we can learn from Stonewall, what is it?

Bishop Robinson:
It’s important to come out, but it’s also important to stand up.