Junior Justin Robinette has been forced to give up his position as chair of the Duke College Republicans. Robinette says he was ousted because he is gay, but other College Republicans denied Robinette’s claims.
In a meeting Wednesday night, the group’s executive board voted unanimously to remove Robinette as club chair. The articles of impeachment approved by the organization list several instances in which Robinette displayed unprofessional conduct, but make no reference to his sexual orientation.
“From the comments made to me before, from the hostile environment created... I believe my sexual orientation had a reason as to my impeachment,” Robinette said in an interview Sunday.
Members of the College Republicans executive board rejected Robinette’s accusation, adding that his sexual orientation was widely known long before his impeachment. Robinette formally resigned from office Thursday following Wednesday’s impeachment vote.
Robinette had served as the group’s chair since his sophomore year. He was re-elected to the position without facing an opponent in February and confirmed in March—three weeks before he was forced to resign. Robinette also serves as co-chair of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans.
Many of the instances cited by the executive board to justify Robinette’s impeachment occurred prior to his March confirmation. Among other allegations, Robinette was accused of fixing group elections, neglecting to coordinate events with the College Republicans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and exhibiting unbecoming conduct, according to the articles of impeachment.
“Generally, it was conduct very unbefitting of our leadership,” said Duke College Republicans Executive Director Sam Tasher, a first-year law student and Trinity ’09. “It started in February through his actions. He pushed out a lot of formerly active people in the organization. Initially we didn’t do anything about it.”
In the last few months, several individuals left College Republicans because of Robinette’s leadership and have only returned after his removal, Tasher added. He said Robinette had repeatedly disrespected club members, demanding resignations of those who disagreed with his own agenda.
But junior Cliff Satell, former College Republicans vice chair, said he thinks Robinette’s sexual orientation played a role in his dismissal.
“It was premeditated. It was set in stone before anything happened. These people, all of them, voted three weeks ago to re-elect Justin,” Satell said. “And during the three weeks where it was discovered that he is gay... the next meeting that was held... he is impeached.”
Satell said he was approached by junior Carter Boyle, the incoming Duke College Republicans chair, prior to Thursday’s board meeting. Satell said Boyle asked him if he knew about Robinette’s sexual orientation and proceeded to discuss the matter in a negative tone, implying that he had told others as well.
Boyle, however, rejected these claims, adding that most board members had known of Robinette’s sexual orientation for months.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Boyle said. “Most of us knew about this for months or years and if we really felt this was an issue... something would have come up in the past.... It is utterly preposterous.”
The “trigger” for Robinette’s impeachment was his mishandling of the organization’s endorsement for Duke Student Government president, Boyle said. In a close vote, College Republicans endorsed junior Mike Lefevre, current DSG chief of staff and now president-elect. Robinette, however, supported junior Will Passo, vice president for Durham and regional affairs. After the endorsement was written, Robinette modified it to reflect the qualifications of both candidates and the board’s dissenting opinions, Boyle said.
“The way the situation was handled was a kind of embodiment of the way he handled club business,” Boyle said. “It’s simply that he tried to go through the endorsement as a partial endorsement of Passo, when his executive board fully endorsed Lefevre and only Lefevre. We had the endorsement written up and he chose not to send it in to The Chronicle, and he changed it.”
Although Satell thinks the executive board raised some legitimate points as grounds for Robinette’s impeachment, he said it is clear that the underlying factor was Robinette’s sexual orientation.
“Put it this way,” Satell said. “If he wasn’t gay he would still be president.”