Category: activism

So you want young people in your climate group?

Jonathan Lu

Recently I spoke with Jonathan Lu. He graduated from Princeton and now continues his studies in California. When he lived in New Jersey though, in his spare time from pre-med studies, he and his friends decided they wanted to research, write, and advocate for a state law that would price carbon and give the revenue back to households. They needed lots of help though, and found willing, engaged, and fast learners in a groups of 15 and 16 year olds.

I spoke with two of these high schoolers, and found myself encouraged, impressed, and educated by what they did and learned, and how they did it. As members of New Jersey Student Climate Advocates (NJSCA), they also reveal best practices for working with young people.

I share these conversations in the latest Citizens Climate Radio. In addition to sharing their discoveries about “making the sausage” of legislation, they reflect on the power of the Student Climate Strikes and why they ultimately put most of their energy instead into working on policy.



Shirley’s latest novel, which gets awesome reviews on Good Reads.

In the Art House I chat with my friend, Shirley McMillan, an Irish young adult fiction writer. Shirley does not hide her feelings, and is about as direct as a New York City cab driver. In 2014 when I started posting about climate change, Shirley wanted nothing to do with it; a Facebook comment made that crystal clear.

She and I chat about what was behind that reaction. It was definitely NOT denial. Her feelings likely mirror a lot of people you may know. I also check in to find out where she is now.

If you never heard my show before, fear not, we don’t ramble and waste time. I craft each show to highlight people’s stories in ways that are compelling. I accompany the conversations with a soundtrack designed to amplify the messages and feelings behind them.

If you do listen on Apple Podcasts PLEASE rate and review us. That will help a lot.

Check out the show wherever you get podcasts. Ep 45 Citizens Climate Radio.

HIV/AIDS, Climate Change, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses

As Activist in Residence at Susquehanna University, I will speak to the Presidential Scholars, a group of honors students who meet monthly with the president of the university and his wife. They share a common reading; President Green selected Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This ancient Roman text includes fantastical stories of transformations (and lots of sordid and awful actions by gods and humans.)

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

In re-reading Metamorphoses in preparation for my talk, I was struck by the story of Arachne. A mere mortal and an expert weaver, she challenges Athena to a weaving competition. It is almost always understood that the goddess wins these sort of contests. Arachne though uses the opportunity to speak out.

Arachne’s weavings tell the stories of the many injustices and cruelties perpetuated by the gods. She may be the world’s first “craftivist,” who uses her craft to bear witness to injustice. Today we have the Craftivist Collective doing something similar.

Another story struck me because of its strong language and how it reminds me of both the HIV/AIDS Crisis and our current crisis because of pollution. In Book 7 Cephalus coming from Athens sails to Aegina and meets up with his old friend Aeacus. It’s been years since Caphalus was there. He is pleased that he is greeted by “a procession of handsome youths, all equal in age.”

But he notices that there are some missing, particularly youths older and younger than this procession.

Photo by Jeremy Lishner on Unsplash

“Aeacus heaved a sigh and sadly explained what had happened.” A terrible plague killed many of the inhabitants. This strange and powerful disease seemed to come out of nowhere and had no cure. People stopped caring for the sick because they feared contagion.

Many poor sufferers couldn’t endure their beds any longer and leapt to the floor or, if they haded the strength to stand, they’d roll out of doors on the ground; and thus each person would flee from hearth and home which seemed to them now to be haunted by death; not knowing the cause, they could only blame the house they had lived in. Some could be seen to be roaming the streets in a dazed condition, so long as their strength held up; if not, they’d be lying in tears flat out on the ground, quite still but for rolling their sleepless eyes; then, weakly extending their arms to the stars in the lowering heavens, here or there, wherever death took them, they gave up the ghost.

In addition to the physical suffering, Aegina also experienced ecological disasters. While it is an ancient story, it sounds strangely familiar to me.

In the beginning the sky weighed down on the earth in a thick, black fog which trapped the prostrating heat in a blanket of clouds; and through the time that it took four moons to wax and to wane, the south winds blew with their sweltering currents of toxic air. All are agreed that the springs and the lakes were also infected…

Both the plague and the environmental devastation echo for me today, first in my memory of the early HIV/AIDS crisis, when people still did not know how the disease was spread, and there was widespread panic and hostility. Many of the earliest victims suffered without the support of the medical community and family.

The descriptions of the environmental damage sound so much like explanations of how climate change works–with a heat trapping blanket of invisible gas that leads to unpredictable weather and poisoning of the oceans.

Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

I do not suggest these stories predict either of these two crises. Rather they serve as a reminder that in times past people were concerned with some of the same things we face today. It is heavy stuff but then something thrilling and hopeful happens. We see the rise of the Myrmidons, a new race of people who emerge out of the death and destruction. The king has a dream which turns out to be reality.

Here we saw a long column of ants which were gathering grain, all bearing their heavy loads in their tiny mouths and steadily trudging along their familiar path on the wrinkled tree bark. “How many there are!” I reflected in wonder and cried, “O Father, of gods the most excellent, grant me as many subjects as these to replenish my empty walls! Then a noisy trembling came over the oak, though there wasn’t a breath of wind to disturb the branches…

The ants then suddenly grew, appearing larger and larger, until they rose from the ground and stood with bodies erect. Their thinness was gone, they had only two feet, they changed color, and their limbs were completely changed into human form.

This reminds me of what happened in the late 80s when young HIV/AIDS activists acted up! They took on government officials and public policy. They educated themselves about drug policy and manufacturing. They broke the collective silence by getting people to talk about AIDS through the films and art they created. They became a fierce, creative, compassionate force that changed the world.

Photo by Lewis Parsons on Unsplash

Today I see something similar happening with the young justice-minded climate activists who boldly speak out about the immorality of a society that relentlessly pollutes and seeks unlimited, reckless growth regardless the consequences. Looking at the work of Extinction Rebellion, we see people of all ages taking part, especially young people and young adults. I see a new type of human taking the center stage. In a way they are a product of our time and a response to the suffering in the world and on the planet. They have become a force that is putting pressure on government and society. They demand big changes.

Aeacus nearly lost all hope, but then a new citizen emerged, “I called them Myrmidons after the ants the had come from. You’ve seen the bodies they now inhabit; they also preserve their original nature–a thirty, industrious people, who cling to their gains and store them away for the future. All of them young and brave, they’ll follow you into the field.”

So I cry out to the gods, grant us as many citizens, young and brave, a powerful response to our troubling times.

(Featured Photo by Veit Hammer on Unsplash)

All Ovid quotes form the Penguin Classic edition translated by David Raeburn.

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.