Peterson Toscano, a quirky queer Quaker concerned with climate change is the host of the Climate Stew podcast and curator of the Climate Stew website. Peterson is a comic, a human rights activist, a Bible scholar, and a performance artist. His most recently play, Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat?, is a one-person comedy that explores the many ways we face crisis both personal and global. He also looks at global warming from an LGBTQ lens with his talk, A Queer Response to Climate Change–What Would Walt Whitman Do? He also has designed the talk, Climate Change–What’s Faith Got to Do with It?
Peterson lives in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, USA and along with his husband, the writer, Glen Retief, is coordinator of the Sunbury chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. Check out Peterson’s website and YouTube channel.
Background Info on Peterson Toscano and his work
Through his one-person comedies and lively lectures, Peterson Toscano has delighted audiences throughout North America, Europe, and Africa as he takes on social justice concerns. His plays and talks humorously explore the serious topics of LGBTQ issues, sexism, racism, violence, gender, and climate change.
Peterson Toscano’s personal journey to accept himself as gay had been long and complicated. He spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to change and suppress his same-sex orientation and gender differences. In January of 1999 he came to his senses and tumbled out of the closet. Through performances, media appearances, and community organizing, he raised public awareness about the harm that comes from seeking to suppress and change one’s sexuality and gender differences.
His scholarly work on gender variance and the Bible (which he presents traditionally and theatrically) has garnered much attention and praise from Bible scholars. He has presented Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible at academic conferences, seminaries, universities, places of worship, and drag bars. Most recently he has applied his skills in storytelling, comedy, and communication to address climate change. His newest play, Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat? is a comic meditation on broken bodies large and small.
Peterson Toscano, a Quaker and obsessive gardener, lives in Sunbury, PA with his husband, the writer, Glen Retief. Together they lead the Sunbury chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. They also organize trips to South Africa for the Susquehanna University Global Opportunities’ program, Traveling Writing in South Africa.
Homo No Mo??
Throughout his career as a theatrical performance activist, Peterson has used storytelling as his primary tool to educate and instigate broader understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues. He raises questions about the intersection of faith and sexuality. He has often asked,
Was I a Christian struggling with homosexuality or a homosexual struggling with Christianity?
In 2003 he wrote and premiered a one-person comic play entitled Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House—How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! Through seven different characters he chronicled what it was like to live in a residential therapeutic setting that promised to help clients “find freedom from homosexuality.” Based on his real life experience, the play quickly struck a chord with audiences and within a year he began to present it throughtout North America. (He retired this play in spring of 2008, but it is now available on DVD and download)
Soon after the launch of his play, the media became interested in Peterson’s story and contacted him for interviews in local and regional publications both LGBT and straight. In 2005 Peterson’s story and play were featured in the documentary film, Fish Can’t Fly, a film that looks at the struggle of people of faith who are also lesbian or gay.
From Cameroon to Saskatoon
Also beginning in 2005 Peterson began to broaden his messages to include scholars presenting for academic conferences at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), American University (Washington, DC), Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, New York), Acadia University (Nova Scotia, Canada), University of Puerto Rico at Mayaquez, and University of Yaounde, (Cameroon). He also began to perform regularly at universities hosted by campus LGBT groups, mulitcultural and diversity offices, Women Centers and student life.
In addition to his work at academic conferences and universities, he began to reach out to the scientific community and mental health professionals presenting lectures about the potential dangers of gay reparative therapy and the benefits of a healthy integration of sexuality. Some venues where he presented include, University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Capital Region Mental Health Center and the Tapestry Health Center.
Peterson relies heavily on the Internet and on-line social networking. He tweets regularly and obsessively, pins on Pinterest (check out his page, If Jesus Had Pinterest,) blogs, podcasts, and has contributed to print and on-line publications including Out Planet, The New York Blade, The New Statesman (UK), and the Gay and Lesbian Review.
In order to broaden his message to high school students, in 2004 he created the play Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,C’s, which is a primer about LGBT issues. The one-person play explores identity, homophobia and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets like Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde and Federico Garcia Lorca.
Part of Peterson’s activism has been a commitment to speak to an international audience. Since 2005, he has presented in the UK, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Cameroon, Malta, South Africa and Canada. Although the ex-gay movement operates differently outside of the US, the conflict that many people have experienced over their same-sex attractions and the pressures of society (along with internal pressures) are often similar.
By telling his story through theater, comedy, in lectures, on TV and radio and in print, Peterson has encouraged other people to also share their stories with the belief that through narrative, we can gain understanding into personal struggles as well instruct others about the dangers we faced and how to avoid them.
Activism and New Work
In spring 2005 Christine Bakke, a lesbian in Colorado, saw Peterson present his play about the ex-gay movement and found it helpful in processing her own experiences of gay reparative therapy. They corresponded and he helped her to unpack her story and then encouraged her to share it, first locally at a Gay and Lesbian community center, then at area universities and eventually nationally and internationally through interviews with the media. Christine has since been featured in both the US and French Glamour Magazine and on the national US TV program Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer.
In 2006 Peterson and Christine began to consider ways they could reach out to other people who also experienced harm from ex-gay conversion therapy. Together they created Beyond Ex-Gay (or bXg), which provides both virtual (on-line) and actual support for ex-gay survivors. On the site they provide articles, narratives, links to other sites, a list of written resources, original artwork, and poetry. In addition, Christine and Peterson educate the public about the potential dangers of gay reparative therapy.
Through a partnership with the US non-violent social justice organization, Soulforce and the University of California at Irvine, bXg organized and ran the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference June 29-July 1, 2007. They also organized a series of press conferences where former Exodus leaders in the US, UK and Australia publicly apologized for their roles in promoting and providing ex-gay conversion therapy. Other ex-gay survivors also came forward to tell their stories to the press and the public.
Since the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference scores of former ex-gays have begun to tell their stories through written narratives, press conferences, interviews, on-line videos, public addresses and blogs. Peterson and Christine aid these individuals as they prepare their stories.
In 2007 Peterson also preimered two new one-person plays, The Re-Education of George W. Bush—No President Left Behind! and Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible, which explores the stories and lives of transgender Bible characters. The play has captured the imagination of other queer artists and will also find expression as a graphic novel and a musical.
In addition, Peterson has served as a consultant to several major LGBT national organizations in the US and UK. These groups seek to counter the misinformation about gay reparative therapy and educate the professional community and the public about the harm of suppressing and changing one’s sexual orientation.
In 2008 and 2009 Peterson continued to tour North America and Europe presenting at universities and conferences performing in Sweden Spain, Malta and the UK (including a series of fringe talks at the Lambeth Conference). In May of 2008, along with local and regional organizers, Peterson organized a conference in Barcelona, Catalonia that brought together a panel of experts to look at the dangers of reparative therapy. In July 2008 he gave a plenary address at the gathering of the Friends General Conference. In December of 2008 he premiered Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible in Cape Town, South Africa. In spring 2009 he spent six weeks in the UK and Sweden presenting on gender, orientation and faith issues. Currently he is on tour with Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible and Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs as well as doing anti-bullying presentations at middle and high schools and lecture at universities about the Ex-Gay Movement. Click here for the current schedule.
In another political comedy, I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window! Lessons Before the Second Coming, explored what it means to be American while offering a comic meditation on strong women, family, privilege and much more. His newest play, Jesus Had Two Daddies, is a ridiculously serious look at scripture and in part a continuation of where his Homo No Mo play left off.
Peterson is also an associate producer of the Morgan Jon Fox’s documentary film, This is What Love in Action Looks Like, which chronicles the events that transpired in the summer 2005 after a 16-year-old boy was forced to attend a youth program that provided reparative therapy. The film will premiered in 2011 and is now available on DVD and through Netflix and Hulu. Peterson co-hosts the popular podcast Queer & Queer with blogger Zack Ford.
As someone who lived nearly 20 years as evangelical Christian, Peterson connects regularly with evangelical and conservative Christian around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns. Now a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), Peterson lives in Sunbury, PA with his husband, Lambda Award winning author, Glen Retief and their two cats Wally and Emma.
Peterson’s theater works Include:
The Re-Education of George W. Bush (retired)
How the Indians Discovered Columbus (retired)
Footprints–An Inspirational Comedy (retired)
Wikipedia pages on Peterson
Published writing by Peterson Toscano
- Trans-Kin A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People (edited by Elenor A. Hubbard and Cameron Thomas Whitley) Confessions of an Unlikely Ally
- Gender Outlaws–the Next Generation (edited by Kate Bornstein & S. Bear Bergman) Transgressing Gender at Passover with Jesus!
- New Statesman Article: I am what I am, it is not a choice
- New York Blade article: I am an ex-gay survivor
- PlanetOut article: Ex-gay recruiters go for youth
- Gay and Lesbian Review Magazine: “Ex-Gay” Survivors Go On-Line
- Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader—The “M” Word, Doin’ Time in Estes Park
Articles, Films, Radio and TV shows that feature Peterson and his work
National Review: Homo No Mo?
ABC.com Gay-Straight Switch, Would You Switch?
Out: When Dos Equis is More than a Beer
Salon: Terapias de Reparacion por Mark Benjamin
Frankfurter Allegemeine: Kirche und Homosexualität-Umschwulung zum Ehemann
NY Times: Some Tormented by Homosexuality Turn to Controversial Therapy
Pride Source: A spotlight on Peterson Toscano
Exspressen: Jag är en stolt bög
Pride Source: To ‘Homonomo and Back
The Hartford Courant: Saved by Therapy or Faith?
The Advocate Magazine: Brainwashed No More
Washington Blade: No Mo Homo Heads to DC
Denver Post: Reparative Therapy Represses
The Advocate Magazine: Brainwashed No More
Bennington Banner: “Ex-Gay” Actor Uses Humor as a Tool, Not a Weapon
Roanoke Times: A Conversation with Peterson Toscano
Greensboro News and Record: Gay Playwright Shares His Journey
The Portland Mercury: Interview–Ex-Ex-Gay
The Church Times Review of Greenbelt 2007
Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report: Straight Like Me
Philadelphia Daily News He’s Laughing Off His Ex-Gay Lifestyle
The River Reporter: Actor’s final performance of signature Homo No Mo
As I Am: His Spirituality Co-Opted for 17 Years
The Columbia Chronicle: Homo No Mo
Ex-Gay Watch: A Visit to the Homo No Mo Halfway House
The Times of Malta: A Musing
The Commercial Appeal: Beyond Ex-Gay Blogger Leads Parade
The Times of London: The camp that ‘cures’ homosexuals
The Pink News: Peterson Toscano speaks about his experiences with ex-gay therapy
Hartford Advocate: Transgendering the Stage
The Towerlight: “Ex-Gay” Survivor Rejects Conforming
NPR Morning Edition: Can Therapy Help Change Sexual Orientation?
Public Radio International: To The Point Program March 2007
GCN Radio: Interview
Swedish National Radio Interview by Tor Billgren
Transponder Podcast: Interview about Transfigurations
WTIC Radio Interview with Colin McEnroe
BBC World Service: Reporting Religion
BBC Radio Ulster Interview on Sunday Sequence
Northern Spirit Radio: Radio Interview
Austrian National Radio FM4 The Ex-Gay Myth
G-Town Radio interview
Connecticut Public Radio: Where We Live program on gender and identity (PRNDI Award winner)
Gay Talk Radio, two hour interview with excerpts from several of Peterson’s plays.
HRC’s The Agenda
WNPR Where We Live Segment featuring Peterson and transgender performance artist Scott Turner Schofield
The Tyra Banks Show
Montel Williams Show
Faith Under Fire Part One and Part Two
Fox TV The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet
Current TV Homo No Mo short film
LOGO TV Be Real
ARD Germany Ex-schwul mit Gottes Hilfe–Die Umerziehungsversuche von Exodus
La Vangardia Los homosexuales denuncian las terapias para dejar de ser gay
Fish Can’t Fly
Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement
For Such a Time as This
This is What Love in Action Looks Like
Star Queen–A Star is Bored
Eli Parker is Getting Married?
The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference 2007
Cure for Love (Canadian)
Articles, Television and Video featuring Peterson Toscano and Beyond Ex-Gay
Pink Pages (UK) Ex-Gay Survivors Speak Out
The Advocate Magazine: A Sincere Apology
Orange County Register: Ex-Gay or Just Exploited?
Colorado Confidential: Fracture Faith and ex-ex-gay Speaks Out Part One & Part Two
Washington Blade: Ex-Gay Not Okay
Glamour Magazine: They Tried to Cure me of Being Gay
Film by Brian Murphy The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference
Los homosexuales denuncian las terapias para dejar de ser gay, La Vanguardia Digital
The Times of South Africa: Coping with being gay and godly
PBS In the Life: In God We Trusted
The Denver Post: Focus on the Famiy focuses on homosexuals
The Advocate Magazine: Making Peace With Those Who Tried to “Cure” Them