Category: activism

How my shallowness helped me become serious

There was nothing in my previous work as an LGBTQ human rights activist and as a queer Bible scholar to indicate that I would make a radical shift to climate action. These days I spend much of my time thinking, researching, writing, and talking about climate change. I lead workshops on climate communication, I perform on stage, and I produce a monthly podcast about it.

Here I am coming out at the People Climate March with the Queers for the Climate. See peeking in the bottom of the frame.

So what happened? How did I go from being aware and concerned but not engaged to someone who can’t stop talking about climate change? Did I receive a Al Gore into my heart? Did I have an encounter with a polar bear? Did I get abducted by environmentalists? Nope, none of the above.

It was love that drew me into climate work, love for my husband, Glen Retief, who suddenly felt gripped by the reality of climate change and initially powerless to do anything about it. His distress triggered something in me that led me to learn more. But what ultimately woke me up to the reality of climate change was not any of the normal triggers. No, my climate story is definitely queer. It had nothing to do with polar bears and everything to do with pasta.

In this video I break it down for you. Yes, I am shallow, but that shallowness got me engaged, so that’s something.

Coming Out Again? This time as a climate weirdo. from Peterson Thomas Toscano on Vimeo.

Are you a Rebel, an Advocate, or Something Else?

Learning from Ancestors

These days I am spending a lot of time assessing my role in the world. Seems there are concerns about justice on every front. Partly what I am doing to sort all of this out is to hear from ancestors and experts. I am currently reading a book about the early AIDS Crisis–How to Survive a Plague. There is a documentary that accompanies the book.

Watch the trailer to see how fierce the fight was and how much even more fierce the early HIV/AIDS activists were.

A Quaker Rebel

Recently I spoke with Eileen Flanagan. She is a writer, a social change teacher, a Quaker, and an activist.

Eileen Flanagan

Currently she is teaching activists about how to organize and to understand their role. She told me about Bill Moyer and his Strategic Framework Describing The Eight Stages of Successful Social Movement. She also shared with me the four roles that change agents have traditionally taken:

Amani Thurman

  1. Helper

  2. Advocate

  3. Rebel

  4. Organizer

In this month’s episode of my podcast, Eileen explains these roles and gives examples. I also speak with Amani Thurman, a college freshman with experience as a rebel and who has begun stepping into the role of an advocate.

Which role do you typically take?


Calling Artistic Activists: Inauguration Reflection


Understandably some people feel today marks the beginning of the end of America and the rule of law in this country leading to devastating global effects. To me today is the launching off point for an explosion of creative, fierce, artful activism. I go into this weekend feeling focused and determined, inspired to be more disciplined in my work and more open to connecting with comrades and co-laborers.

I am not looking through rose-tinted glasses; we face real risks, for some more than others, but I DO NOT feel defeated at all. And it is not like we have been living without the need to address multiple oppressions and oppressors, although some people have felt these more sharply than others.

Today we continue work as we begin anew. This is an Inauguration for artists and activists as we serve a new term of action.

All aboard!


(2017 inauguration image: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

Meeting Tyra Banks and Finding New Ways to talk about Contentious Issues

imageHomo No Mo?!? Taking on Conversion Therapy

10 years ago I was full throttled engaged in getting the world to understand the dangers of conversion therapy and how it harmed LGBTQ people. Back then fellow ex-gay survivor, Christine Bakke, and I quickly understood we needed to talk about this politically charged topic in new ways. Using personal narratives, storytelling, art, and comedy, a group of us were able to interact with audience and the media on a deeper level.

By 2007 I was on national television not only denouncing the Ex-Gay Movement, as it was called, but also attempting to humanize the experience of survivors. Some people struggled to understand why I also sought to humanize the promoters and providers of these failed and dangerous treatments. No doubt having become a Quaker in 2001 also shaped the way I saw these issues and even my opponents. Supporters at the Friends Meeting continuously reminded me to “see that of God” in everyone.

Some gay bloggers wanted me to portray them as evil, hateful homophobes. But it wasn’t that simple. Many of the folks who ran these programs were gay themselves and gender variant, trapped in a system that insisted that they were only valuable if they destroyed the queer part of themselves.

Tyra Banks Made Me Do It

In this clip from the Tyra Banks Show, ex-gay survivor Steven Fales and I share our stories and the trials we faced at the hands of religious and secular leaders who tried to cure us. Sitting in the audience is the head of Love in Action, the notorious residency program I endured for two years. At the end the segment Tyra asks me about what I learned from my experience. This gave me a moment to find common ground with my former oppressor.

Successfully Redirecting the Conversation

IMG_0332A little over a decade ago, a handful of us who survived conversion therapy got our stories out to the public. We used blogs, YouTube, podcast, interviews in print, radio, and TV, and public speaking to communicate a simple message: Conversion Therapy Causes Harm. We added other messages like, the people running these programs usually intended to help us but their efforts caused suffering and pain that has lasted for years.

As a result, we were able to change the public discourse so that people understood that these gay-to-straight conversion treatments and ministry were ineffectual and dangerous. And on this very basis we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of these programs in North American and there have been laws passed in various US states protecting young people from the same type of treatment we suffered.

The Queer Issue of Climate Change

penguin memeToday I take on a different issue, equally as contentious as the LGBTQ-affirming versus the conversion therapy world. I am a climate advocate. I seek solutions to our polluted skies and seas. I desire to open up conversations and to break the collective silence around climate-related issues. I plunge into the murky and swirling political waters of climate change policy (and the lack of policy.) And I am constantly discovering and celebrating common ground.

Like with LGBTQ issues, I have developed new ways of talking about climate change drawing on comedy, storytelling, and personal narrative. I recently completed the 50th episode of my Climate Stew Show, a podcast that takes a serious look at global warming, but doesn’t try to scare the snot out of you. I also offer presentations at universities, conferences, theaters, and places of worship including my shows, A Quirky Queer Quaker Response to Climate Change and Everything is Connected–An evening of stories, many weird, most true.

Using A Recorded Voice to Reach More People

cce for radio IMG_0133This week I launched a new effort–Citizens’ Climate Radio. Using interviews, comic monologues, and interactions with listeners through a monthly Puzzler question, I am aiming for friendly and inviting tone. I want to reveal the people behind the climate movement and their personal transformations. I am in no mood to go through the silly and unhelpful debate about climate denial.

I have interviewed over 30 people, including Republicans, Conservatives, and Evangelical Christians, all concerned with making the world a stable place with clean air and a healthy climate.

Like with the pro-LGBTQ work I did as an ex-gay survivor, I seek to humanize the people on all sides to the climate discussion. Yes, I want people to think, but I also want them to feel–no not fear and shame–these seem to be the go-t0 emotions for people doing environmental work. No, I want them to feel empathy, longing, courage, hope, and determination.

Here it is the very first episode of Citizens’ Climate Radio — Beginnings and Transformations 

Using Comedy to Blow Away the Activist Blues

IMG_0189Sometimes I grow weary in well-doing. For years as an LGBTQ human rights activist, there were times I got down and discouraged. People can say and do ugly things. At times it has felt worse than an uphill battle–more like trying to scale a wall of Jello. But every activist who has been around for more than two weeks knows that we need to pick ourselves up and keep going.

A Little Help from my friends and Friends

Through checking in with fellow activists, commiserating, venting, joking, and comforting each other, I regularly get and receive a boost. At the Quaker meeting I attended for years in Hartford, CT, I had a Support Committee. This group of friends met with me about every 6 weeks to check in and to listen. They also provided practical help when I needed a ride to the airport, when I moved, and when I felt crushed when my mother suffered with lung cancer then died in 2006. They stood with me. In so doing, they helped me to do the work I felt led to do.

img-thingI feel so grateful to the many friends here in the US, Europe, and South Africa who have given me the boost I needed when I grew discouraged and overwhelmed with activism. This was especially true as we began the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement. So many times I called up Christine Bakke or Daniel Gonzales and left silly messages in the voices of my characters Marvin Bloom, Chad, and Elizabeth Jeremiah.  I created whole comic bits just to help me and others laugh a little as we trudged through hard stories about ex-gay harm.

A Whole New Wacky World of Activism

Now I am deep in the Climate Change weeds with my Climate Stew podcast and website. I keep bumping into a whole group of scientists and activists who are chronically down as they dig deep into the crisis that is upon us. I cannot think of any better time to unite Marvin with Chad for a little climate change humor. Based on a wonderfully encouraging article by Robbie Couch, I created and performed this short monologue for my podcast. Here it is for you to enjoy (transcript below.)


Your Moment with Marvin

Photo by Jimmy DeSana at MOMA PS1

Photo by Jimmy DeSana at MOMA PS1

Hi, this is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin.

Hi everyone, I’m sorry but I’m a little down. It’s actually my partner’s fault. Tristian. Yegh, he’s been a funk. He reads too much about climate change. He actually just finished reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book about Extinction. Thanks a lot Peterson. So he’s got what I call the climate change blues. You know when you see how serious things are all over again and how it seems no one cares. It’s emotionally deflating.

So to help me out is my good friend Chad Rodriquez. Chad is college student. A very positive person. Anyway he claims there is some good news about climate. So I guess its your moment with Marvin and Chad.

Hi Chad,

Chad: Oh my gosh, Hi Marvin. Oooo, you really are sounding blah. That’s ok Eeyore, It’s time for a little climate boost.

I’m actually feeling hopeful. For one, I’m in college. I Graduate in May. Class of 2016 ooh who. And I am so impressed with how many  other young people are getting involved in politics. I mean primaries and elections seems so boring, but you have this huge turn out of young people getting involved. And I remember so many young people at the Peoples Climate March. And young people are standing up with divestment campaigns. And out on the streets involved in BlackLivesMatter. There’s something happening. And that’s exciting.

Marvin: That’s True, Chad. A surge of political engagement among the young. Some of them are sure gaga for Bernie.

IMG_0302Chad: Oh my gosh, on campus its feel the Bern all the time. Although I did a semester abroad in Switzerland and stayed in city of Bern. So when I hear Feel the Bern I think of crosquents, Francois, and chocolate spread.

OK, more good news. Carbon emissions are dropping globally. They were down .6% in 2015. Yet there was still economic growth. Surprise. You can burn less and not sink the economy. We have China in large part to thank for the decrease. They are working hard to turn it around.

Marvin: And they don’t have to deal with a congress that is stuck in the mud. Not that I am advocating a Communist dictatorship or whatever they got going on. But it sure streamlines policy decisions.

Chad: And I have a third piece of good news. Paris! Sure the Paris Accord is not the silver bullet when it comes to climate action. What does that even mean, Marvin? silver bullet? Does it refer to one of those new super fast bullet trains?

Marvin: No, it’s a bullet. like in a gun. In horror stories they magically kill a werewolf with a silver bullet.

IMG_2648Chad: Ew, so violent. Why even when we are talking about positive solutions we have to bring firearms into it? Let me try again. Sure the Paris Accord doesn’t deliver a knock-out punch. Yeah, not much better. Ugh, Basically Paris Accord doesn’t solve all of our climate woes. Still it is historic and an important major step. I mean think of it. 195 nations got together and committed to doing something to decrease their national carbon footprints. All of the big polluters including the US and China signed on. Even Russia, which has been so weird lately, offered a climate action plan.

Marvin: Yeah, I guess I forget what a big deal Paris was. I get so bogged down sometimes. Floods, droughts, apathy. I get overwhelmed.

Chad: Well, once a wise person told me something that made me laugh and gave me hope. And that wise person is YOU, Mr. Marvin Bloom. You once told me that you are an apocoloptilist. Or something. What was that?

Marvin: Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forget. Yes, said I am an apocoloptimist. In that looks like we are going to hell in a flaming hand basket  but I still think we’re gonna get off our butts and do something amazing.

Thank you Chad, I knew you would cheer me up.

This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this has been your moment with Marvin.

Enough with being sick and tired!

After six days of a raging sore throat, I just forced a pot of coffee down my throat in hopes of forcing my body out of bed. I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Even with the entire Criterion Collection on Hulu along with all of the delicious junk TV I watch, millions of YouTube videos at my disposals (I have been obsessing over news bloopers), Netflix, and Fandor (which is a high-brow version of Netflix with films I never heard of but are supposed to be super clever and high art), I have exhausted my ability to watch anything else.

I confess I am a terrible sick person. I almost immediately devolve into a whinny mass of quivering despair. A beached whale looks downright chipper compared to my flailing about stranded on the couch reaching for my iPad and throat lozenges. It is amazing how when I feel sick, I have no patience for anything else in the world. The other day there was an awful letter to the editor in our local paper from someone denying the reality of climate change. Normally I’d be all over that, responding with what I hope would be a thoughtful, efficient response that slices through the denial to the heart of the matter, but seriously I was too sick to care. Similarly there was some anti-gay Twitter mess happening right before my eyes, and I couldn’t even muster a single meme in response.IMG_1649

But that is how it goes, right? Who has time to take on the weight of the world when suffering is close at hand. Mine of course is temporary and a suffering that comes with the privilege of a home and healthcare and a partner and a housemate and food and medicine and digital media to get me through. And truth be told it felt good to drop out of the world for a few days even if I feel a little guilty about it. “I read the news today, oh boy…” Who in their right mind wants to be engaged in the suffering of the world and informed about the pain all around us? Where does one even start with earthquake victims in Nepal and rampant racism domestically?

Some of us have the privilege to get lost, to opt out, to disappear into our worlds. This is definitely true in the USA and Western Europe where many of us have a bounty of luxuries that are unheard of in most parts of the world. And sure everyone needs to take care of themselves, particularly activists, or else we will be worth nothing to the causes we feel called to pursue. But part of the work of the privileged is to stay awake, to stay tuned in, to listen, to learn.

Another part is to discern where we are called to serve. So many important causes tug at us. There are vital struggles all around us. Friends who are suffering. And at times I do want to run away to some fantasy world over the rainbow or on the internet and forget all about the swirling mass of conflict, need, and pain. That is understandable, but not acceptable. There is work to do, relationships to build, justice to pursue, peace to promote, and stories to be told.

So I choose to be responsible, to take the next small but significant step. It started with a pot of coffee because it is time to wake up.



The Queerest Issue on the Planet

He’s a gay Jewish man from Long Island married to a Caribbean-American trans man. If you have not yet Marvin Bloom, here is your chance. Although he is quick to point that that he was too young a the time to get involved, Marvin reflects on lessons learned from the HIV/AIDS Crisis of the 1980’s and makes a stunning connection to conflict and crisis today.

Also, we are getting a little tired of polar bears getting all the action, and reveal some of their disruptive antics. Finally, we get good news from the future about Marisol Jimenez, an activist who over the next 50 years is going to do some amazing stuff.

Check out this week’s 12 minute radio comedy.

Turning the Climate March into a Pride Parade

While I could have marched with the Quakers or the Citizens Climate Lobby, in the end I opted to march with the Queers for the Climate. Good choice! I also recorded lots of audios and mini interviews for the Climate Stew Podcast. Stay tuned!

preparing the puppets and queers to march (see glen retief?)

preparing the puppets and queers to march (see glen retief?)

Ready to March on W 83rd Street

Ready to March on W 83rd Street


herding queer cats & mermaids

Fierce, just fierce

Fierce, just fierce

Her sign got a lot of attention.

Her sign got a lot of attention.

Justin Vivian Bond on the far right (she marched the whole way with us)

Justin Vivian Bond on the far right (she marched the whole way with us)

Video posted by Earl Dax reveals we know how to chant and look fabulous on 42nd Street

A homage to Robin Williams by a sociology professor who marched beside me.

A homage to Robin Williams by a sociology professor who marched beside me.

Love the buggy eyelashes

Love the buggy eyelashes

These two got up early to prepare (or never went to bed the night before)

These two got up early to prepare (or never went to bed the night before)

Wind & Fire ready to march

Wind & Fire ready to march

We're here; we're queer, and OMG those pumps will kill you!

We’re here; we’re queer, and OMG those pumps will kill you!

This one even has the global warming pout going on.

This one even has the global warming pout going on.


Even Frida showed up

I was there. See peeking in the bottom of the frame.

I was there. See peeking in the bottom of the frame.

Marching in Midtown

Marching in Midtown


And a drag queen shall lead them on.

And a drag queen shall lead them on.

The “Why Not Now” campaign: ages 13-21submit your video

There is a new video campaign/competition sponsored by The Climate Reality Project. Young people from all over the world are submitting videos raising their concerns about global warming. Some of these will be then shown to delegates at the United Nations for the historic emergency gathering later this month. The winner gets a free trip to NYC.

This sounds like something perfect for Ms. Ob’s Classroom

Check out this short video by Seerat Kaur from India. She not only raises important points, she asks world leaders essential questions.

At The Climate Reality Project, we know solutions to climate change are right in front of us. We can create a healthy, sustainable, and prosperous future by making a global shift from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energies like solar and wind.

Our leaders aren’t going to do it on their own. So we’ve brought together millions to make them, demanding a change with a collective voice so loud and forceful they have no choice but to help shape the clean energy future we need.

This Why? Why Not? campaign is an extension of those goals, aimed at giving members of future generations a voice in one of the world’s most important debates, and providing them with a forum to spread it.



Out for Sustainability Summit in Seattle September 13

Starting in 2008 a group of LGBTQ folks in the Seattle area began to meet in hopes of making the planet fabulous. Later this month they will hold a summit with an impressive list of speakers. Shame I am on the wrong coast! If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check them out!

OUT for Sustainability invites you to the first LGBTQ-focused summit on the intersection of environment, society and identities. Fab Planet is a half-day conference containing a series of panels, workshops and networking ending with a celebration reception to mark a day of exciting conversation and future action. Our intention is to spark connection among LGBTQ sustainability leaders and give visibility and language to the intersections of our diverse values.

Fab Planet Summit

September 13, 2014


220 & Change, Pioneer Square in Seattle, WA


Loren Othon

Loren Othon, one of many great speakers at Fab Planet Summit