Category: europe

Gorgeous Iceland! Sights and Sounds

In September I visited Iceland. Wow what a beautiful country! It is a geological wonder with loads of active volcanoes and hot springs sprinkled throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed their hot bath culture spending hours at a community pool jumping between the different temperatures in the various pools. The highlight of my trip though was a visit to the Icelandic Metrological office thanks to an invitation from my friend, Dr. Melissa Pfeffer, a volcanologist who annually visits most if not all of the active volcanoes measuring their gases and activity.

While at the Met office I also sat down and had a beer with Dr. Halldór Björnsson who overseas climate change research in Iceland. We had a wonderful conversation that surprised me. Halldór recognizes the seriousness of global warming, but he is brimming with hope. He also sees the power that everyday citizens have to help address climate change. No, not by changing our lightbulbs; he advocates for citizens to use their political power to demand changes from government.

Maybe you have already been to Iceland or are planning a trip. Below are some photos I took from my trip. Learn about the climate of Iceland and hear Halldór explain what summer weather is like there. Learn about the changes that have been happening to this small nation and the ways they have adapted economically.

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Where two continental plates meet

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Some of the hot spring action

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Volcanoes created surreal landscapes

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Dettifoss is a waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, and is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe

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Reykjavík , Iceland’s capitol

A cemetery in Reykjavík

A cemetery in Reykjavík

My Icelandic picnic lunch

My Icelandic picnic lunch

Where they monitor weather, volcanoes, and earthquakes

Where they monitor weather, volcanoes, and earthquakes

Banning Gay Conversion Therapy in Malta

Gabi Calleja

Gabi Calleja

Having been in Malta twice in my life, I can testify that the people I met there were lovely–smart, passionate about justice, and able to enjoy amazing meals late into the night. (And don’t get me started about my illicit affair with the Maltese pea pastries!)

Through the years I have been associated with a group of LGBTQ Catholics in Malta through a group called Drachma. Back in 2008 was already growing and vibrant LGBTQ activism in the country. Drachma bought the voice of LGBTQ people of faith into the public discourse; they chose to be very public in a deeply religious country.

Fierce Maltese LGBTQ Activists

I remember being at Pride 2008 in the Maltese capitol of Valletta as we streamed through the narrow streets and turned the plaza into an LGBTQ rally. One activist, Gabi Calleja, stood up and took my breath away with her clarity. I paraphrase: “We have the right to marry the people we love. We have the right to jobs and housing. It is an insult to ask permission for these things that are already our rights.” The message was clear to me–these Maltese queer folks in their liberated minds lived in a place with full rights and inclusion of LGBTQ people. They demanded that the world around them catch up.  Gabi has gone on to speak out about gender diversity within the LGBTQ community and the wider world.

View from our table in Maltese cafe

View from our table in Maltese cafe

Speaking Out in Malta about Dangers Of “Gay Cures”

In the Maltese media I got to highlight the dangers of gay conversion therapy.  And through the years with the public witness of Drachma, the theologian James Alison, and Maltese LGBTQ folks like Diane, Mario, Christian, Clayton and many more witnesses have continually pointed out the futility and dangers of gay conversion therapy and ex-gay ministries and the peace and joy of living openly and honestly. These anti-LGBTQ therapies do not only target gays and lesbians, but very much have wreck havoc for transgender and gender non-conforming people as well. Even when they felt unsafe to share their full identities, ex-gay survivors in Malta shared their stories. Back in 2008  one young man told his story of bizarre and dangerous ex-gay treatment in Malta.

So I was thrilled and not terribly surprised to see the follow story in Pink News: Malta could be the first country in Europe to ban “gay cure” therapy.

Minister Helena Dalli presented the bill for its first reading this week

Minister Helena Dalli presented the bill for its first reading this week

The country’s government yesterday unveiled a ‘Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression’ bill – which would outlaw so-called ‘conversion’ therapy.

The practise of attempting to ‘cure’ someone’s sexuality is considered pointless and damaging by most experts – but is yet to be outlawed in many country.

Malta’s Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli yesterday presented the bill for its first reading in Parliament – with the aim of prohibiting LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ as a deceptive and harmful act.

public consultation has also launched on the issue, which will remain open for a month.

If you live in Malta, I urge you to weigh in and fill out the short consultation form to share your understanding of gay conversion therapy. If you want to learn more about the harms many of us suffered, read Ex-Gay Harm–Let Me Count the Ways on the Beyond Ex-Gay website.

My chat with a Syrian Refugee

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Wakefield City of Sanctuary Rally to welcome refugees

Last month when I was in Wakefield, England (I do love the Yorkshire accent!) I attended a rally in the city centre. It was at the height of the news stories about refugees in Calais, France as European nations announced they would increase the numbers of refugees they will let in. For years citizens of Wakefield have been working on welcoming asylum seekers into the community and the country. In fact, there is a regional intakecentre in Wakefield where newly arrived refugees are processed and stay for three weeks before heading out to other parts of the UK.

IMG_1668In addition to speaking with Linda, one of the key leaders in the Wakefield District City of Sanctuary programme, I also met Mohamed, a young man who arrived in the UK from Syria eight months ago. His journey to the UK took him three months. I learned a great deal from speaking to both of them.

I edited the interviews and added some music. You can hear them on my Climate Stew site latest episode of my podcast.

Or directly from SoundCloud

Going to the Other Side–Peterson Among British Atheists

Peterson and Zack are back to have a conversation about the intersection of faiths. Peterson is getting ready to head to Europe, where he’ll be speaking and performing before the British Humanist Association. (You’ll also find him at the Greenbelt Festival.) Unsure of how a room full of non-believers will receive him, he turns to Zack, who obviously is prepared to speak on behalf of all atheists. We get into a conversation about discussing religion across “interfaith” spaces, and effective ways to keep the event inclusive. Plus, Zack gets one step closer to winning that toaster.

Have a listen to the Queer and Queerer podcast

Do you want more??? Check out previous episodes of Queer and Queerer where Zack & Peterson discuss everything from gay porn to gardening.

Doin’ time in Northern Sweden

In a few hours I will perform once again in Umeå, Sweden, a progressive city in the North of Sweden. I believe it is the fifth time I have been here, and arriving at the home of Alex & Noa Resare, I feel like I have come home. In fact, the past two days I have slept about 13 hours each night. Their home with their three children is a place where I can relax, recuperate, and just be myself (a person who likes to sleep 13 hours a night and then sit in bed and do my work.)

Tonight I will perform a variety show of sorts, “Doin’ Time with Peterson Toscano–Just when you thought it was safe to laugh.” I have done this show more and more the past two years, and have enjoyed being able to pick and choose from nearly a hundred different options of what I can present. Even though it is guaranteed that I will do some bits (Chad & Lorca from Queer 101 & The Identity Monologue) each show turns out different from the last with a clear theme emerging. Tonight’s show I will focus on sexism, misogyny, bodies, and strong women. Here is an outline of possible bits I will perform.

Doin’ Time in Umeå

Intro: Sweden is TOO progressive for my comedy. You all need to elect a racist, homophobic government so that my jokes will mean something (said sarcastically.) I also notice that the flight over alters my body. Once I get off the plane and walk among the Swedes, I am twice as fat as I was in the States. You are all so beautiful, naturally beautiful. Even your fat people here are fit. We could learn from your natural living to just learn to embrace ourselves for who we are.

1. Henry Kissinger had a boob job
2. scene from Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House (Chad & Vlad intro)
3. scenes from “Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs” Chad &Lorca, Earthel
4. scene fromRe-Education of George W Bush–Dr. Meadows does Sodomy
5. scene from I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window–NEW monologue about woman with “issue of blood”
6. scene(s) from Transfigurations–Deborah and possibly man with pitcher of water (I will do all of Transfigurations on Sunday, so I don’t need to do it all tonight)
7. Stand up: some cancer comedy. Don’t you hate it when your mom gets lung cancer? People ask such stupid questions. “Did she smoke?” WTF etc
8. Comedy sketch: Marvin & Samson or How Marvin “did it” kinda
9. Vlad and his superpower. Invisibility can be complicated
10. Identity Monologue

Chances are I will not get to all of this and in fact may end up doing some very different bits. A lot of it depends on the audience. Part of doing solo performance work requires building a dynamic relationship with one’s audience. They give me energy and direction as I share my mind and heart. A bond occurs, often unique from audience to audience, and the show and my performance gets influenced by that bond and our shared needs, interests, and personalities. What I love about LIVE solo performances is that truly anything can happen. And often I discover new material, new jokes, new insights that I incorporate into the act during a future performance, an imprint of that one audience on the enduring work.

I imagine this happens a lot with teachers in the classroom who present some of the same lessons year after year or pastors who repeat sermons (come on, you can confess that you recycle ministerial material.) Jazz musicians have a long history of improv and immediate creation in front of a live audience. There is something magical about the whole thing. If I think about it, I see it is also scary, so I won’t think too much about it. Instead I will rehearse rehearse rehearse and have the words roll around my mouth and tongue and let my body shape shift into characters very different (and some not so different) from me.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Spirit of Perversion??? Ex-Gay Survivor in Malta Speaks Out

On my recent trip to Malta, I met Paolo (not his real name), who when he was 18 (three years ago) stumbled into the ex-gay movement. His story helps illustrate how the US-based ex-gay theories and practices sneak in under the radar in Europe.

When I came out to my mum about my sexuality I must admit she was not expecting this, however she was understanding and told me not to rush into things as this might just be one of the phases which adolescences may go through, and if I were gay she would have no problem with it, as nowadays its normal, however in order for me to find out if this were just a phase or not she soon referred me to a psychologist in Malta where I live.

Seems reasonable enough except that this particular “therapist” quickly took Paolo on a down path in an attempt to de-gay him.

She paused and said, ‘you gay?, not once did it cross my mind that you could be gay, however not to worry’ she added, and she soon reached out for a book which was created by a pastor, whereby she told me to read these prayers, in order for the Holy Spirit to come into me and to basically deliver me from evil, and this was to be discussed in further detail upon my second visit. At that point in time being at such a vulnerable stage I just followed her orders, without any question.

Paolo returned two more times, but he finally stood up to the abusive and inaccurate teaching,

Upon my third visit as she went on about the whole possessed issue and religious acceptance, that for me was the final straw, and I said, ‘I am sorry but who are you to say that god doesn’t accept me?, God accepts and forgives everyone and being gay is not considered as a forbidden sin, and as far as I am concerned I have never stolen, murdered or committed any mortal sin, and I have faith in God and surely I am not possessed and God loves me as I am. After all I am one of his creations!’ and that brought about the end of my third and final visit.

In his narrative over at Beyond Ex-Gay Paolo outlines his reasons for sharing his story. You can read his complete narrative here.

Thank you Paolo for sharing your story!

Doin’ Time in Guernsey

From the island paradise of Malta (ah those pea pastries, yummy beaches and beautiful new friends) I have jetted to the another island paradise, Guernsey, one of the Channel Island. I’m with Auntie Doris, who will have photos up today I believe. We stay in her grandmother’s home overlooking the English Channel. Most people I’ve met say it has the best views of any place in the island. I totally agree. Gorgeous.

Today we took a ferry to the smaller island of Herm for time on the beach and a swim in the soul-freezing water. Even though it was so cold, I still managed to swim for about 20minutes and get some laps in. I also nearly completed the book, Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. The writing and the story holds me transfixed, but I also appreciate the inclusion of contempory Quaker characters. Gale even includes descriptions of Meeting for Worship, Quaker weddings, funerals and more.

This weeks serves as a proper holiday for me (quite rare actually) but also a time to prepare for the Lambeth Conference where I will offer talks/performances as part of the “official fringe” events. Most likely I will not be on-line much until Monday night, so if you e-mailed me, I am not ignoring you, just resting and praying and sunning and reading and eating and singing ABBA tunes and not near a computer or wifi.

If you want to check out what is happening in and around Lambeth, check out Ruth Gledhill’s daily input for the Times of London or Bishop Gene Robinson’s (aka “the gay Gene”) Canterbury Tales from the Fringe (hat tip to Liz Op)

Photos from Malta

My dear friend and host in Malta, Diane took some photos of my visit and my performances that I thought I would share with you. I head out today for the UK where I will be with Auntie Doris for one week in Guernsey then off to Lambeth.

Here you see me with Diane


Performing in the Re-Education of George W. Bush


Lunch at the Open Centre with Mario who is saying some things that literally blows my mind.


Kissing Fudge the dog.

As Deborah in Transfigurations
At the beach with Marjon, Fredrick and the dogs, Fudge and Milly

Moved in Malta

My trip to Malta quickly comes to a close when I fly back to London on Monday. Last night I performed The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! to a lively (and sweaty) audience in a super cool performance space called Warehouse No. 8. It literally had been a warehouse and still retains some of its rustic and industrial charm. It reminds me of some of the loft theater spaces in NYC during the 1980’s–the kind of space that inspires progressive theater.

Earlier this year I have performed the Bush play in Sweden, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each time I wonder, Will it work here? I do not presume that my performances will translate into other cultural and political-social settings. So far the piece has worked out in these non-US venues. Of course all these places have nearly constant exposure to US media, so many of the references and in-jokes do not seem all that foreign. Also the play pokes fun at George Bush in part and the USA and its citizens to a greater extent. This gives the European audiences a chance to hear me talk about “the other” without feeling defensive. Almost always after each European performance one or more audience member tells me “you know we have many of these same problems in our country.” (these problems=sexism, white privilege, inhospitality towards asylum seekers, etc)

Last night at Warehouse No. 8 I felt uncertain if the Bush show would work, especially in the summer heat (no air conditioning in this cutting edge space) and with the explosions from nearby festivals to the saints (they have loud saints here). But it worked. They laughed less than most audiences but afterwards many came to me effusive about how they enjoyed the show and how surprised they felt that I said something serious and thoughtful.

During the Q&A session I received two questions that stand out for me this morning.

1. Did you choose to go into ex-gay therapy/treatment or did someone force you?

Hmmm, good question. I have to say it was a little of both. I mean, yeah, sure, I constantly elected to go into a program, speak to a minister or a counselor. I willingly spent my own money on trying to de-gay myself. So yeah, I chose to live that way. But I also felt deeply coerced by society. Everywhere I went I heard how bad it was to be gay–on the playground, from the pulpit, through politicians and in the press. I swallowed those lies and believed them as if they were the gospel truth. I then went to war against myself thinking I was doing something holy that benefited me and society.

You can say I was weak. Instead of standing up to all that pressure, renouncing it and boldly stating, “I am what I am, and if you have a problem with it, too bad!” I bowed to the pressure. I was programmed to hate myself, and I went along with the program. It makes me wonder today about other ways I have been similarly programmed and have not yet liberated myself.

2. How has coming to Malta helped you in your own “re-education” process?

Excellent question. I had two significant and possibly life-changing
encounters this week. One was lunch with a Dominican priest who worked for many
years in Brazil. He was a personal friend of Poulo Frere. You can say this
priest ascribes to what has been called liberation theology. He looks at the
scripture with class lenses to see the plight of the poor and the oppressed. He
wanted to meet with me because he cannot come to my Transfigurations performance tonight. He felt curious about these transgender Bible characters I unearth.

I see the character of Joseph in Genesis as a very positive and powerful person because of his gender differences. This priest had not seen that before. He sees Joseph as someone who consolidated all of the land from the people so that the leader, Pharaoh, could have complete control and power. We came to a
place where we agreed that both of these readings can live side by side. Someone can do great things as a great person and also abuse power in ways that harm others while benefiting those who already have power and privilege.

That night I read through the both the major and minor prophets in the Hebrew scripture and discovered that they cried out about the same two things over and over. 1. The need for the people to return to a more pure form of worship stripped of idolatry and 2. The need for the people to no longer oppress the poor for their own gain and along with the need to stop injustice in the land.

These prophets never talked about sex, well, except for a few heterosexuals misbehaving. They talked about devotion to God and a quest to return justice to the land.

Yesterday I had another significant lunch at The Open Centre, a halfway house complex of sorts for men from Africa who arrived on Malta as asylum seekers and have since been released from detention but don’t yet have the legal or financial means to enter fully in the mainstream of society. I learned that for everyone of them who arrives safely on little boats and rafts, four of them die on the journey. The stories of violence, extreme poverty and trauma that they left behind in search of a better life for themselves and their families shocked me in large part because I never read these stories in the newspapers I get back home. I met a psychologist from Eritrea and many men of deep faith both Muslim and Christian. The needs they have can easily overwhelm a visitor. How they live with them I cannot imagine.

I began to wonder, do we have such centers in the US? What happens to the many many detainees in my country, similar men from Latin America and Africa and other places who come to the US looking for the opportunity and freedom we constantly advertise in our movies and such? I do not know. I realize I need and want to educate myself. I now want to contact my cousin Peter who works with asylum seekers in Connecticut.

Yes, Malta has challenged me to re-educate myself

Today I meet with perhaps the only two Quakers on the island. They want to start a meeting for worship here. I think of the small group of Quakers I met earlier this year in Northern Sweden who just started their own official meeting. I feel grateful to have these connections with Friends with familiar practices as well as new kinds of friends I meet who challenge the ways I think. I am a very very fortunate man.

Doin’ Time with the Sunday Times of Malta

I sat for a long interview the other day with Ariadne Massa, a journalist with the Times of Malta. She seemed fascinated with the ex-gay portion of my life and asked many questions about that experience. Of course she on my never dying adoration with the a lovely compliment in the opening paragraph.

With his infectious smile, spirited remarks and positive energy, it’s hard to imagine how Toscano suppressed his true being for 17 years to fit in society’s pigeonhole of ‘straight’ people. At 43, the long traumatic journey has failed to etch wrinkles in his flawless complexion, which he attributes to daily moisturiser and veganism.

See I am a living breathing billboard advertisement to the wonders of being a vegan. Shoot if the environmental impact doesn’t move you or the reality that it is a more humane choice, surely I can appeal to your vanity!

What I like about sitting for interviews is that it forces me to think about places in my life that I might not normally consider. Being in a Catholic country like Malta got me thinking about my own Roman Catholic roots. Ariadne’s questions also got me thinking to my earliest days when I realized how I had been different from other boys around me.

“I knew I was different at six. I was on a cabin cruiser with my family and I was staring at these beautiful lace curtains and I just wanted to touch them. Suddenly my uncle roars: ‘Don’t wipe your hands on those!’ ” he says, smiling.

By the time he was eight, he had crushes on his male teachers , which he kept to himself.

“I got the message pretty quickly that boys are supposed to like girls, and I heard bad things about homos, fags and queers,” he adds.

Raised a Catholic and fascinated by spirituality, Toscano contemplated becoming a priest because being celibate meant he did not have to deal with his sexuality. He even went on a Capuchins’ retreat and that was where he confided in a priest.

You can read all of Ariadne’s article A Musing here.

I will have photos up from the Malta Pride March once I get them from Clayton, a young gay Catholic man who looks like an exact copy of my friend Vince Cervantes. It was weird. I felt like I spent the evening with Vince. What I loved about the Malta Pride event was that EVERYONE marched in the parade. The route took us through the most populous part of the city with thousands of people going in and out of clubs flanking the parade route. That meant that most of the parade viewers were straight people watching this amazing spectacle of a pride parade plow through their partying.

The rally afterwards had a decidedly political bent as the political climate in Malta has not been affirming or supportive of rights for LGBT people. Moviment Graffitti, a far left human rights group marched in the parade as well. This group stands up for the rights of all people who are marginalized and discriminated against. I admit I felt a little anxious marching through a crowd of intoxicated straight revelers, but we encountered no opposition or negative reactions. On the contrary at times the crowd cheered us on.

Afterwards at dinner some of the Maltese apologized for having such a small Pride March compared to what we have in the US. I explained that in most parts of the US our Pride events are actually quite small compared to NY or San Francisco. Places like Richmond, IL or Rochester, NY have modest events. They also expressed surprised when I spoke about problems with racism, homophobia and sexism that still exist in the US. They had the impression that we were beyond all of that. Perhaps that is what they experience in the movies or in our news reports, but the reality is that in the US we have work to do around skin privilage, male privilage and heterosexism. It astounds me that we have so many people living in the closet still in the US today, but then again I completely understand it.

In the article, I got to express some of these thoughts,

Toscano’s advice to gay people is: “It’s not easy or convenient, but if we’re ashamed of ourselves, it’s as if we give them permission to treat us shamefully.”

Now I must dash to take a shower to wash off all of the salty sea out of my flawless complexion :-p

(Photo: Jason Borg)