OUTstanding Virginians 2016

 

Dr. Christine M. Robinson

Organizer, Educator, Researcher, Policy Advocate

Christine.First.Harvest.Grapes

Dr. Christine M. Robinson, Professor of Justice Studies at James Madison University, says the movement for LGBT equality is “about something even larger than justice.” “We are a movement for Love itself,” she explains.

When this fierce advocate for justice speaks of ‘Love itself’, she is not referring to an easy greeting-card sentiment. She means a force that can make the difference between life and death. “Too many of us had to learn the hard way that loving ourselves—and each other—is necessary for our very survival,” she says.

For Christine, this was literally the case. At age 17, after facing rejection by her parents over her sexual orientation, Christine attempted suicide but was saved and nurtured by her brother John, who had stood by her all along. “He is why I believe that love is far stronger than hatred and ignorance,” she says. Fortunately, the entire family was able to heal over time, and Christine’s parents are now among her staunchest supporters.

A profound effect of Christine’s early trauma was to set her course for a lifetime of service to others.  Christine recalls, “I made a promise to myself that I would never let anyone crush my spirit again and that I would do everything possible to prevent what I went through from happening to someone else.”

Christine’s service to LGBT communities began in 1990 when, as an undergraduate at Salisbury University in Maryland, she co-founded SU’s student LGBT organization. After two years of lobbying, she persuaded SU’s President to add “sexual orientation” to the university’s nondiscrimination policy. She worked with students at her master’s institution, Memphis University, to accomplish the same thing in 1994. Since then, she has been a consultant to over a dozen universities that have sought to make the policy change.

While a doctoral student at the University of Kansas, Christine successfully persuaded her university (which already had sexual orientation in its policy) to offer domestic partner benefits to faculty, staff and students. Outside the university, she successfully lobbied the city council in Lawrence, Kansas to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination ordinance in 1995. These and similar efforts earned the young scholar numerous awards and honors, including a Local Heroes Award from Planetout International. Her work in the community also caught the attention of opponents of LGBT equality, and she was once personally picketed by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Christine moved to Virginia in 2003 to take a position at JMU teaching courses such as Sexual Orientation and Social Policy, Environmental Justice, and Social Justice Interventions and Policies. She quickly found opportunities to continue her social justice work, raising awareness about issues affecting LGBT people. For instance, Christine served on a committee that developed the proposal for what is now JMU’s LGBTA Education Program (“A” stands for Allies). She has served as the faculty adviser for Madison Equality, the student LGBTQ organization.

All the while, Christine continued working for policy change on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Christine joined a group of students, faculty, and staff to lobby the administration to add “gender identity” to JMU’s nondiscrimination policy. As a result, JMU was the first state university in Virginia to include this language. The university has recognized her with the first-ever Christopher L. Gatesman Service Award from the LGBTA Education Program and the Faculty Diversity Enhancement Award.

As always, Christine’s work reaches far beyond the campus. Christine has served the Shenandoah Valley Gay and Lesbian Association in many roles, including as President, member of the Board of Directors, and presently the organization’s newsletter editor. She’s the founder of SVGLA’s monthly potluck, First Friday, which has provided an important social network for people in the Valley for ten years running.

At the state level, she served on the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance from 2004 to 2006, a task force addressing intimate partner violence experienced by LGBT individuals. In 2007, she joined the Advisory Board of Network Virginia, an initiative funded by the Ford Foundation and the American Association of University Professors to build LGBTQQ coalitions on campus. In 2011, Christine was the catalyst for organizing a state-wide symposium titled “And Justice For All,” which addressed sexual orientation and gender identity policies and programs at Virginia colleges and universities.

Christine also participated in nonviolent direct actions at Liberty University with Soulforce and twice co-sponsored educational events in Harrisonburg about the dangers of spiritual violence and the religious oppression of LGBT people. Soulforce co-founder Rev. Dr. Mel White became an important influence in both her spiritual development and social justice practice.  “Mel taught me that in advocating for our own humanity, we must heal from the effects of our dehumanization,” Christine says, “and we must insist that our own politics be spiritually pure – that it must be a politics of humanity.” In practice, she explains, this involves “remembering that many who may currently disagree with us know not what they perpetrate because they don’t know us.” The challenge is to recognize opponents who are of good faith and to build relationships with them.

Christine feels that her most important work in public policy and scholarship is done behind the scenes. As a member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, from which she also won a major award, Christine contributed to amicus curiae briefs challenging the Kansas sodomy law. One of these briefs was submitted to the US Supreme Court in their landmark Lawrence and Garner vs. Texas decision in 2003. In 2009, Christine won the Monette-Horwitz Trust Award, a national award given to individuals who make significant contributions to eradicating homophobia.

As a scholar, Christine is well known for her pioneering research on the “ex-gay movement.” She has presented her research on national radio and is regularly sought out as a consultant by national social justice organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign. She was legally retained as a consultant (pro bono) for the Southern Poverty Law Center in their landmark consumer fraud lawsuit against an ex-gay organization, which ended successfully just this past year.

Despite a demanding schedule, Christine manages to balance her research, advocacy, and community service with a rewarding spiritual and personal life.  She is a member of the Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalist community and lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her spouse, Suey, their two Boston Terriers, Thumbelina and Matilda, and their Irish Jack Russell Terrier, Lord HeBean. In the summer, she fishes in the Chesapeake Bay “as often as possible.”

Click for Christine’s thoughts on the ex-gay movement. ►

I’ve been doing research on the ex-gay movement since 2004, and my spouse Suey and I have collaborated on several studies. Unlike most research on the “ex-gay” phenomenon, our work focuses on the social and political aspects of the ex-gay movement, which aims to oppress all LGBT people.

Our work, in a nutshell, exposes and confronts several myths about the ex-gay movement.  The greatest myth about this movement is that it only affects people who are clients of “ex-gay” counselors and programs.  The second myth is that it is fundamentally about changing sexual orientation.  The reality is that this movement aims to enforce rigid gender and sexual roles for all people, and gender and sexual orientation minorities are the most targeted.  The third myth is that this movement is declining in influence.  Despite some evidence of its decline, the movement continues to flourish in this country with few impediments and is proliferating globally. The fourth myth is that this is primarily a psychological or religious movement.  The ex-gay movement is fundamentally a political movement and an industry. Psychology and religion are the clothing it wears in order to oppress us spiritually, psychologically, and socially.

Our work has sought to disrobe this movement, to challenge how it demeans and dehumanizes LGBT people, and to expose and confront its anti-LGBT public policy agenda in the US and abroad. We are encouraged by two remarkable things that happened in 2015. First, the President of the United States publicly supported the movement for laws banning mental health professionals from doing this to youth. Second, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for all nations to pass such laws.

In Virginia, we would like to see a law that prohibits the psychological abuse of and spiritual violence against minors perpetrated by therapists, social workers, and others who work as professional counselors. We should call it what it is—psychological abuse, spiritual violence and religious oppression—not what the anti-LGBT industry calls it: “conversion therapy,” as if it is therapy. It is not.

Some of the most important work we can do as individuals is to educate members our community and our allies about the threat of the ex-gay movement and how to advocate on this and other issues that affect us on a daily basis. As important as it is to educate our community, it is vital that we believe our voices—and our votes— matter; that if we do not speak up, we make the status quo a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

 

Celebrate our victories this year and honor the 2016 OUTstanding Virginians by joining us at this year’s Commonwealth Dinner!