CONCORD, NH (AP) – In 2008, when the Right Reverend Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was kicked out of a global Anglican rally because of his sexuality, Desmond Tutu, who died on Sunday, came to his defense.

“Gene Robinson is a wonderful human being, and I’m proud to belong to the same church as him,” Tutu wrote in the preface to a book Robinson published that year.

Robinson, who in 2003 became the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, said on Sunday that he has since tried to live up to those words.

“It was pretty surreal because I was taking heartache from all over the world,” he said in a phone interview. “There was probably at that time, and perhaps still, no one more famous in the world than Desmond Tutu. It was an incredible gesture of generosity and kindness. “

Tutu, a South African racial justice activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has died aged 90. He was a staunch enemy of apartheid, the brutally oppressive South African regime against its black majority, as well as a staunch advocate for LGBTQ and even rights. sexual marriage.

“Now with same-sex marriage it’s hard to remember how controversial it was, and for him to stand by my side just as I was being left out… it completely upset me,” said Robinson.

In the preface to Robinson’s book, Tutu also apologized for the “cruelty and injustice” that the LGBTQ community had suffered at the hands of his fellow Anglicans.

Tutu, said Robinson, used his own experience of oppression to understand and empathize with others.

“He used that as a window into what it was like to be a woman, what it was to be someone in a wheelchair or for someone LGBTQ or whatever,” did he declare. “It’s the thing that taught him to be compassionate.”

Robinson recalled how Tutu’s laughter rocked crowds of thousands as well as a private moment they prayed together at the seminar Robinson graduated from in New York City.

“There was no one in pain who didn’t care, whether that pain was some physical illness or mental illness or something to do with cruelty or degradation. It hurt her, ”said Robinson. “Sitting in the room and hearing him pray for these people was about as close to knowing the heart of God as I expected to know. I mean, I don’t even need to know more than that.

Robinson was the ninth Bishop of New Hampshire until his retirement in early 2013 and later as a member of the Center for American Progress. Now 74, he recently retired as vice president of religion and senior pastor at the Institution Chautauqua.