Major LGBTQ civil rights figure the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson will speak at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy. His talk is sponsored by Chautauqua’s LGBTQ and Friends Community as part of their initiative to engage more with programming at Chautauqua Institution.
Robinson’s talk is the second of two events the group has underwritten in their inaugural summer of sponsoring programming under the LGBTQ and Friends Community name.
As the first openly gay and partnered priest in Christendom, Robinson was consecrated bishop in 2003 and served as IX Bishop of New Hampshire until his retirement in 2013. He will be joining Chautauqua in September as vice president of religion and senior pastor.
“He was the most outspoken advocate for gay rights and LGBT(Q) affairs when he was the Episcopal bishop,” said Tom Selke, LGBTQ and Friends member. “When we learned he was going to be (coming to Chautauqua), we thought it’s important that people get to know him and hear what he’s all about.”
As well as sponsoring programming this year, the LGBTQ and Friends Community offers weekly events, including Brown Bags on Tuesdays and a meet and greet on the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel on Sunday evenings.
“It’s really important that when people arrive on the grounds, they have a sense of community and they know that they’re welcome,” Selke said. “That’s why we started the Sunday night at the Athenaeum porch.”
Selke said he hasn’t found any negative bias at Chautauqua and that people are welcoming to him and his partner, Monte Thompson. He said the LGBTQ and Friends Community has found that the Department of Religion and the administration have been supportive and helpful to the group and their mission.
“(Associate Director of Religion) Maureen Rovegno and (Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education) Sherra Babcock would absolutely come to our meetings and stick their hand out and say welcome to Chautauqua,” Selke said. “I think that (is) really important.”
Although there have been LGBTQ Chautauquans for decades, Tim Holland, another member of the LGBTQ and Friends, said there hasn’t always been a community for people to identify with.
“As a young boy and man growing up (in Chautauqua), it was kind of like the rest of America — even though I recognized I was different than other people, being (openly) gay wasn’t an option,” Holland said.
Holland has been coming to Chautauqua for 48 summers. A few years after his parents sold their house here, he, along with his brother, who also is gay, bought a shared house in 2004. He admitted that when he arrived in 2004, he had prepared himself for an unaccepting community.
“It might have been a little bit too judgmental,” Holland said. “I arrived with a little bit of a mission to say this place is as much my place as it is anyone else’s.”
However, upon his arrival that summer, Holland noted that he was pleasantly surprised to find the LGBTQ and Friends Community.
“There was a really nice community and core group of people that I’ve stayed friends with (ever) since,” Holland said.
Holland attributes this shift to not only the creation of the LGBTQ and Friends Community, but also to the shifting paradigm in the United States.
“When I grew up here, my parents could not imagine that they were going to have two gay sons,” Holland said. “When we came out to them, they went through all … kinds of turmoil, but eventually realized they still had the same kids that they raised and respected, and they grew to love our partners. They had a lot of personal growth, and I think that happened in America, too, as people realized that they knew gay people and gay people came out to them.”
This humanization of LGBTQ people and the education of broader society is a mission the LGBTQ Friends and Community tries to effectuate at Chautauqua.
“It (becomes) less of a strange idea and more of a realization that we’re just like everyone else with the same hopes and dreams and interests,” Holland said. “Gay people (at) Chautauqua are not a new phenomenon. We’re just (as much) part of the fabric of this community, just perhaps more visible right now.”
For more information on program underwriting opportunities, contact Karen Blozie, senior major gifts officer at the Chautauqua Foundation, at 716-357-6244 or