Bishop Gene Robinson has been a controversial figure of late – demonized by some, lionized by others. So when Love Free or Die, a documentary following the last two or so years of Gene’s life, screened at this year’s LLGFF it was a highly anticipated feature.
Macky Alston’s illuminating documentary attempts to present a man with two passions in his life: God and his homosexuality. It really is as straightforward and as complicated as that.
Amidst the circus surrounding Gene, we’re given an insight into a pretty average Joe. Gene lives with his partner, does the laundry, smokes and just happens to be the first openly out and proud Bishop.
Having been banned from the Lambeth Conference (a super meet up of clergy from the Anglican Church), renegade Gene visits England anyway with mixed reception. Archbishop Rowan Williams definitely comes off as the baddie steering the Anglican community towards an increasingly archaic worldview. Gene does the rounds visiting Canterbury, an HIV health centre and is even invited to preach at a forward-thinking church.
There are some truly moving moments that almost brought me to tears. One example involved a church service interrupted by homophobic protest. I won’t spoil it but what we’re shown is one recurring theme in Gene’s life – abuse. After the service Gene appears bleary-eyed and saddened by the senseless hate geared towards him.
On the flip side, there are those who applaud his bravery and unyielding sense of identity. The cameras capture some important shifts in Church policy. He has his supporters – in fact they come in their legions. He also has his ever faithful partner Mark and his two daughters.
So we’re drawn a portrait of an ordinary man placed in an extraordinary position. I genuinely enjoyed the film. More than anything I was drawn to Gene’s personality which translated beautifully in the film.
As Gene himself says, homosexuals in any position do not want to be ‘tolerated’ or ‘accepted’. They want the justice afforded to everyone else and as far as this Bishop of New Hampshire is concerned, it’s a God-given right.
It is clear these seemingly warring aspects of Gene’s life – the God issue and the Gay issue – are at peace within him. It’s just the rest of the world that has to catch up.
[Anecdote: I was privileged enough to meet Gene after the screening. It just so happened before the start of Love Free or Die I was eating some Lovehearts and my last piece said ‘Bless You’. I decided to save this away for our chat. Upon presenting it to him Gene raucously laughed and accepted it in good spirit. The guy’s a legend!]
Watch this space for my exclusive interview with Bishop Gene Robinson as well as the audio Q&A after the screening.