Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church, will be in Maine next month showing a documentary film about his life and struggle to be acknowledged by the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The screenings of the documentary, “Love Free or Die,” are being sponsored by Mainers United for Marriage, the coalition supporting passage of the same-sex marriage referendum on the November ballot.
The film and its director, Macky Alston, recently won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
“Love Free or Die” will be shown the first week of June in Portland, Lewiston and Ellsworth followed by a question-and-answer period with Robinson. A fundraiser for the campaign will be held in connection with the Portland screening, David Farmer, spokesman for the campaign, said last week.
Robinson’s consecration as the ninth bishop in the small diocese made him an instant celebrity and thrust him into the limelight as an advocate for gay rights, including same-sex marriage. It also increased tensions between conservatives and liberals in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and among member churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The decision to let a filmmaker into his life was not an easy one, Robinson said Thursday in a telephone interview.
“I knew [Alston] through the Auburn Media Group at Auburn Theological Seminary,” the bishop said. “He came to me in late 2007 and said that he thought the next few years would see dramatic developments around issues affecting GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] people. My husband Mark [Andrew] and I considered it, then invited him into our life for a three-year period.”
The film includes the more than three weeks Robinson spent in England in summer 2008 during the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of the members of the Anglican Communion held every 10 years. Because he is openly gay, Robinson was not allowed to participate in the official meetings or worship services.
Instead, he spoke, worshipped and met with others who felt marginalized by the Anglican Church. He blogged about his experiences on a website called “Canterbury Tales from the Fringe.” Alston captured much of Robinson’s time in England on film, including a moment when the bishop was called a “heretic” by a heckler.
The film ends with the consecration of Bishop Mary Glasspool, 58, as an assistant bishop for the Diocese of Los Angeles, according to Robinson. Glasspool is the first open lesbian to be elected a bishop in the U.S.
Robinson said Thursday that recently he has been traveling around the country promoting the film and talking about same-sex marriage, among other things.
“I’m very hopeful the referendum will pass,” he said. “I think that while Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are very different states, the one thing they have in common as a real Yankee value is the value of fairness.
“I think it won’t be too many years before we look back on same-sex marriage as we now do on miscegenation,” Robinson said. “Allowing interracial couples to marry didn’t change the definition of marriage. What changed was who had access to a marriage license.”
Robinson, 65, will retire in January. His replacement, the Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Mass., was elected May 19. Hirschfeld, 51, and his wife, Polly Ingraham, have three children, one of whom is expected to attend Bates College this fall.
Robinson said that in retirement he would continue to work on issues affecting the GLBT community at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., a liberal think tank. The bishop’s second book, “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage,” is scheduled to be published in September. His first book, “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God,” was published in spring 2008.
“Love Free or Die” will be shown at 6:30 p.m. on the following dates in the following locations:
• Monday, June 4, Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, in Portland.
• Tuesday, June 5, Benjamin Mays Center at Bates College, 95 Russell St., Lewiston.
• Wednesday, June 6, The Grand Theater, 165 Main St., Ellsworth.
The doors open at 6 p.m. at each event. To RSVP, visit http://action.mainersunited.org/page/event.