Quirky, queer Quaker, Peterson Toscano, shed light on topics such as homosexuality, transgender issues, religion and climate change last night at 7 p.m. in Freeman Auditorium in the HUB-Robeson Center.
Sponsored by Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, LGBTQA Student Resource Center, Penn State Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, Sierra Club Moshannon Group and Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Peter Buckland, Sustainability Institute’s academic programs fellow, organized the event, “Everything is Connected – Evening of Stories, Most Weird, Many True.”
“Peterson is a person who is so many of the issues that are being discussed in today’s society — LGBT issues, religion issues and climate change — and he’s so relatable and so approachable that he’s able to make the divisions in our country seem irrelevant,” Buckland said.
Discussing these topics in three different sections, or Acts, Toscano performed these separate Acts by acting out scenes from some of his previous plays or through monologues.
Elke Arnesen, Toscano’s intern, gave a brief introduction about Toscano to the audience before presenting him.
“He is comedic gold and is able to make climate change an approachable topic,” Arneson said.
In Act I, titled, “Homo No Mo,” Toscano discussed his struggles with his sexuality when he was younger and all the different methods he tried to “de-gay” himself.
“I tried to be straight but I failed so I tried harder and decided to become an evangelical, conservative republican Christian, basically a mini Ronald Reagan,” Toscano said.
Toscano told the audience how he spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents trying to de-gay himself by attending support groups, having exorcisms, and other “whacky” things like enrolling in the ex-gay program, Love in Action, located in Memphis, Tennessee which he calls, “Homo No Mo’ Halfway House.”
Toscano then went to act out a scene from one of his plays, “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo’ Halfway House,” portraying two different characters, Chad and Vlad, and what it was like to be in the “Homo No Mo’ Halfway House.”
Toscano, who portrays Chad as the stereotypical feminine man, and Vlad as the rigid soviet man, acts out how the two characters explain the rules in the “Homo No Mo’ Halfway House” in a satirical, comedic way.
Once Toscano “came to his senses and out of the closet,” he transitions to Act II of the presentation titled, “Transfiguration.”
In the second Act, Toscano told the audience all the misconceptions he had coming out of the closet about homosexuals as well as discussing stories from the Bible.
He then asked the audience “who is gay in the Bible?” and told the story of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and how it relates to transgender people.
Joseph, who was different from his brothers, wore this coat described as a “garment worn by the virgin daughters of the King,” that embarrassed his siblings and caused them to beat Joseph up and sell him as a slave to Egypt, Toscano said.
Toscano then gave a monologue using the character from the bible, Esau, Joseph’s uncle, to discuss how Joseph was different from “regular” men.
After several years, Joseph rises up to second in command in Egypt and when confronted with his siblings again, instead of punishing them, he takes them in as equal and forgives them, “saving us all,” Toscano said as the character, Esau.
Then Toscano moves to Act III titled, “Climate Queer,” to discuss the main topic — climate change.
Toscano told the public how climate change was not his “jam” at first but became an important topic to him once he realized it was a human rights issue and a social justice issue.
“I realized I need to do something so I took a year off and decided to study climate change,” Toscano said. “What I realized was people want to scare the s--- out of us about climate change but teaching with fear and shame does not work.”
In his third and last presentation, Toscano portrayed this “Marvin Bloom” character, a Jewish, gay Long Island man who preached about climate change.
“There’s still hope, still solutions to combat climate change,” Toscano said as the character Marvin Bloom.
Through his monologue, Toscano related his two previous Acts — homosexuality, religion and transgender issues — to climate change.
Homosexuals had to change public policy, convince the public and change their perception during the times of the “GRID [gay-related immune deficiency] plague,” Toscano said. Then in Joseph’s story, Joseph was able to help prepare the pharaoh and the Egyptians during the seven year drought but at an expense to the public.
Both these cases discuss the struggles that humans have been faced with and the solutions they have come up with to combat their obstacles, Toscano said.
“Climate change is basically sexist, racist and classist,” Toscano said. “Climate change is a justice issue and we have to come up with a solution in a just and equal way.”