In 2003, Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church. He became the first openly gay person to serve in that position.
He immediately received death threats. At his consecration, he wore a bullet-proof vest. For years, he required 24-hour security.
Today, things have changed. Robinson said the public—including churches—have become more accepting of the gay community.
"We're in this moment in American cultural history ... for the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people," he told a crowd of more than 200 Monday night at the Congregational Church in Exeter.
Robinson argued religious hostility to the gay community is rooted in faulty conclusions from Bible passages. He said church leaders have used Bible passages to justify slavery and the subjugation of women.
"And yes, we have gotten it wrong on gay people," Robinson said.
Robinson said nearly everyone in America—especially the younger generation—knows someone in the LGBT community.
"That makes all the difference," he said."When the issue comes up, a face comes up with it.
"People are simply not willing to believe what they've been told by their faith community about gay people, because they know that not to be true."
Robinson said the older generation in the anti-gay section of the religious right are in a panic because many of their children have gay friends.
"Their kids don't want to belong to a group that talks about their friends (in a negative way)," Robinson said. "If something doesn't give, they're not going to have any future left."
Since his controversial election, Robinson has traveled the country speaking about his experience. In 2009, he delivered a prayer during President Obama's inauguration.
"I've tried to represent New Hampshire well," Robinson said.
His talk Monday was part of the "We The People Lecture & Film Series," which is organized by the Congregational Church of Exeter, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Exeter, Christ Church, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Water Street Bookstore.