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Climate Stew Blog

Coming Out as a Gay Climate Activist

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.

A Conversation about Environmental Racism

I recently sat down with Peggy Sheppard, the co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Social Justice. She has been raising awareness and winning environmental justice battles in NYC and beyond since the late 1980’s.

In addition, I chatted with Dr. Beverly G Ward, Field Director for Earthcare for the Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, talk about their work pursuing environmental and climate justice.

Have a listen to this insightful and essential conversation about power, privilege, and fossil fuel pollution.

You can hear Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher RadioPodbeanNorthern Spirit Radio, Google Play, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

Are we really all in the same boat TOGETHER?

Like most Americans, I have been transfixed and horrified by the size and scope of Hurricane Harvey, this mega storm that hit Texas and Louisiana with so much water and destruction. It has become obvious that everyone in the path of the storm and the flooding have been affected and will be for some time. They are talking about recovery efforts taking years. Everyone who survives will have a Harvey story to tell for the rest of their lives.

I imagine that anyone with family in the Houston area, America’s fourth largest city, watched and waited with dread hoping their loved ones make it through ok. Family and friends around the country have already begun to provide practical help: housing, food, clothing, and well needed dollars. While the storm has moved on, and the waters recede, life still must go on. Bills need to be paid. Students have their studies. People have jobs. Yet many are displaced. Homes are uninhabitable. The support of family and friends is essential.

Floodwaters flood Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston on Aug. 27, 2017. What was once Hurricane Harvey has inundated large swaths of the city and southeast Texas since it made landfall on the state’s Gulf Coast. (Photo courtesy of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church) Article in Washington Blade.

LGBTQ people at greater risk?

This got me thinking about my own kin in the Houston area and those places affected by this storm. My people. LGBTQ folks. It’s not that I don’t care about other folks, but part of human nature is to be particularly aware of the needs of those in our own family and affinity groups. It is what helps us survive. We need stick with the pack.

As a gay man, I wonder about the ways LGBTQ people have to struggle in a storm that is similar and different from non-LGBTQ people. Of course a lot of it has to do with the other factors in an LGBTQ person’s life that on a sunny day make life challenging.

Yes, we are all in the same boat together; just not all on the same deck. Some people suffer more than others.

Homelessness

If you are LGBTQ and without a home before the storm, you may find it threatening to go to a homeless shelter. Transgender women of color are particularly at risk from violence in public and have historically been unemployed or under employed because of prejudice and discrimination. As a result, they represent a large percentage of the LGBTQ homeless population. Many homeless shelters are often run by Christian groups who traditionally have been hostile to us. They are also highly gendered spaces. This creates special challenges for transgender and gender non-binary people. Who gets to decide where you belong? Many avoid these shelters. As a result, they become that much more vulnerable during a storm.

Undocumented LGBT Immigrants

 

I think of the LGBTQ person who is an undocumented immigrant. What happens when you try to get the help you need in the midst of a storm? Will this action trip a whole series of legal repercussions that lead to detainment and deportation to a place where it is even more unsafe to be LGBTQ?

LGBTQ Seniors

What about our seniors. LGBTQ seniors experience a lack of equality with non-LGBTQ seniors in part because of the lifelong homophobia and transphobia they experienced from their families, society, and the government. I think of Marion, a fictional 84 year old lesbian based on many real life people like her. She is living alone and estranged from her family for many years. Perhaps earlier in life she had married a man and had children. I know of many LGBTQ folks who did, and even today their family want nothing to do with them. They have never seen their grandchildren. No one checks in on them. Perhaps Marion had a long term partner, Susan, who died in 2010. They were together for 43 years. Yet when Susan died, Marion received no social security or benefits. In fact, Susan’s family suddenly showed up and demanded personal objects and money that was shared by Susan and Marion. Perhaps Marion has been able to build a social structure that supports her, but also at that age, she has begun to lose her friends and may feel very alone. What happens when a storm like Harvey comes along? Where does she go? Who checks in on her?

Help You Can Provide

You can imagine these scenarios and more. In addition to seeing and feeling these realities, we can also do something to help. Right now in Houston there are two organizations raising money specifically for LGBTQ people affected by Hurricane Harvey. IF you cannot donate, you can share this post and links to get the word out.

Trans Diaster Relief Fund organized by the Houston-based Trans Advocate group, which has been around and doing fine work since 2018. You can learn more and donate right here.

The Montrose Center, Houston’s LGBTQ Center which started in 1978 is also reaching out to the many LGBTQ people who need immediate support and on-going help. You can learn more and donate right here.

Climate Change? How Very Queer!

A homage to Robin Williams by a sociology professor who marched beside me and other Queers for the Climate at the People Climate March in 2014.

Since 2014 I have obsessed, mused, marveled, and expounded on queer responses to climate change. I am please to say that my growing interest in the topic have not abated. Next month I will co-present a workshop, Everything is Connected–Trans Lives and Climate Change, with Liam Hooper, a trans man and fellow Bible geek.

While I look at the more direct connections to LGBTQ people, Liam will bring in theory. He told me, “I am working with the various parallels of queer practice that relate to the inextricable connections between exploitations of land and exploitations of bodies.”

If you are in the Philadelphia area on September 7, and you want to take part in the workshop, check the details here.

In looking models in history, I have returned time and time again to Walt Whitman. The groundbreaking American poet was a gay man who wrote about bodies, identity, and nature. I would not call him an environmentalist. He was a lover of beauty and he writes of a deep connection to other humans–friends, lovers, and strangers, as well as to the natural world.

Writing very much about himself in the preface of the first edition of the Leaves of Grass (1855,) Whitman talks about these many loves and of beauty:

The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet. He consumes
an eternal passion and is indifferent which chance happens and which possible contingency
of fortune or misfortune and persuades daily and hourly his delicious pay. What balks or
breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to contact and amorous joy. Other
proportions of the reception of pleasure dwindle to nothing to his proportions. All
expected from heaven or from the highest he is rapport with in the sight of the daybreak or
a scene of the winter woods or the presence of children playing or with his arm round the
neck of a man or woman. His love above all love has leisure and expanse … he leaves
room ahead of himself. He is no irresolute or suspicious lover … he is sure … he scorns
intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills are not for nothing. Nothing can jar
him . . . suffering and darkness cannot— death and fear cannot. To him complaint and
jealousy and envy are coipses buried and rotten in the earth … he saw them buried. The
sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than he is of the fruition of his love and
of all perfection and beauty.

With his eye fixed on all Americans, not just white men in his world, his willingness to get his hands dirty during a huge crisis (the American Civil War,) and with a view to both the present and the far future, I find Whitman a constant source of inspiration as I mull over the query, “What is my role on this new planet?”

Next month at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, I will present my performance lecture, A Queer Response to Climate Change–What Would Walt Whitman Do? I will also present this same piece at SUNY Cortland in mid-November for the New York Coalition for Sustainability in Higher Education Conference.

I am always curious to hear what other people think of this topic: Queer Response to Climate Change. Please feel free to leave comments with your ideas.

Apocalypse Now? Fear Tactics and Climate Communication

Recently some climate communication experts have been freaking out about freaking out. In reaction to a New York Magazine article, The Uninhabitable World, by David Wallace-Wells, a big debate is raging about fear tactics when talking about climate change.

In my latest Citizens’ Climate Lobby podcast, we look at the different sides and some of the social science around fear and rhetoric. Joining me is Halldor Björnsson, the Head of the Atmospheric Research Group at Veðurstofa Iceland also known as the Icelandic Met Office. Also, we hear from Dr. Kristian Bjørkdahl who has earned a PhD in rhetoric and continues his studies at the Centre for Development and the Environment, at the University of Oslo. Oh, and Aristotle makes a surprise cameo appearance.