Performance artist Peterson Toscano on LGBTQ and climate justice intersectionality October 29th


While at the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21st I had the pleasure of personally meeting performance artist Peterson Toscano, and hearing about his “The Queer Response to Climate Change” creation. He will be using storytelling, humor and skilled facilitation to perform “Climate Change: What’s faith got to do with it?” October 29th at 7 PM at All God’s Children MC Church 3100 Park Ave S as well as “Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible” 30 October 2014 7:00 pm at Richfield United Methodist Church 

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

As someone who has done spoken word comedy performances about global warming myself, I can attest that it is exciting and uplifting to bring together the diverse interests of faith community building, LGBTQ liberation and climate justice. Peterson recently wrote that he addressed these three important issues “always with the goal to hold out hope and to encourage us to dream and scheme about how we can envision and achieve a future world that is more just, clean, and stable for all.“ Peterson’s optimistic vision can only be held up by taking robust, coordinated action to address the climate crisis which I “voted” for by putting my body in the street for the People’s Climate March. While each climate march up to this point has been sponsored by a much small handful of organizations, this climate march was unprecedented as a diversity of over a hundred groups and organizations took part. A whole new meaning opened up for me when I saw a website about one of the groups in the march called “Queers for the Climate”. Here I saw a special joining of two circles of my identity also represented by other environment-LGBTQ fusions like #SavetheStraights and also OUT for Sustainability.

When I joined in with the Queer Planet section of the Peoples Climate March from 82nd Street until Times Square I saw the hilarious “Save the Straights” T-shirts and heard the shouts of “we are here we are queer and we are here to save the planet”. It was a fun group to march with featuring handmade puppets made to represent the natural forces of earth, air, water and fire. On this day I witnessed the fascinating yin and the yang of a serious topic bellied by a colorful parade-like atmosphere. I experienced the magic of a diversity of cultures, organizations and spiritual leaders all joined by the unity of the same cause.

I used the opportunity to ask numerous other marchers in the Queer Planet section (Peterson Tescano among them) what their thoughts were on the intersectionality between the climate justice movement and the LGBTQ movement. I found out the most typical use of the intersectionality frame is that LGBTQ liberation intersects with other liberation struggles like those against racism, sexism and classism. So therefore caring about the climate crisis is an essential part of queer identity because it is another expression of solidarity with the oppressed. The most common answer to my intersectionality questions at the march was the logical link that marginalized and minority communities on the periphery of society will be among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate disruption. Being in NYC, the image that played into my mind was a homeless queer youth weathering the streets during the time of Superstorm Sandy due to being expelled by non-accepting family.

The next logical link to make the intersectionality coherent is that we can’t divorce the issue of climate justice from sociopolitical struggles because we have complete and utter dependence on the network of all living things. Likewise, the emerging climate movement as represented by the People’s Climate March now represents a “grand push” form of intersectionality to bring all other liberation social movements together. For example, a post on the Queers for the climate Facebook page asking to join Ferguson October read “All our grievances are connected, and no one will win until we all win – racial justice IS climate justice.” The unified call for climate justice is hence a grand opportunity to right multiple past social wrongs and economic injustices all at once. That is why we can reframe the typical perception of climate action from being an inconvenient sacrifice for a distant threat to being “our best hope for a better present” as Naomi Klein describes in her new book “This Changes Everything”.

This is a reason why we were not at the People’s Climate March to declare a rainbow coalition of vulnerable and oppressed groups. I hungered to hear something on the climate justice/ LGBTQ movement intersectionality than that has a more triumphant tone. One substantive answer to the intersectionality question I posed was to take a fresh look on the narrative of the AIDS crisis. Responding to the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s had an eerily similar dynamic to the response on global warming data. We had deniers with AIDS and we had governments and corporations refuse to acknowledge the severity of the AIDS crisis. But eventually we were able to move those governments and corporations using the media to tell the stories and educate the masses. Yes people still suffer the consequences of delayed response to the AIDS crisis. However, we succeeded in preventing a worst case scenario that could have been.

Here is another set of answers I heard for my intersectionality question: Overall being LGBTQ induces one to look at the world in a more critical thinking way about where the system works and does not work. Hence my mind speculates whether the cultural oppressors behind historical bigotries like racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism could be part of the same essential patriarchy as the 1%rs whose choices for energy technology and agricultural methods locked us into this climate mess. I have long personally speculated that there had to be some common archetypal correlation between accepting your natural self as you genuinely are and having reverent valuation for the natural world. These are the reasons why I was interested in the intersectionality question to begin with.

The LGBTQ have had to assert ourselves for personal regard and existence against discrimination in a way that parallels to standing up to protect our future existence from climate feedback loops. In the online Grist Magazine, a Climate activist explained how “going green” is like coming out. Both movements involve the political activism of changing attitudes and what people think with human rights overtones. It was once unimaginable we would have equal marriage rights on almost every continent and now half of the states. In an extremely short period of time young people led national rapid opinion shift on gay marriage past the tipping point. Can we channel that mountain-moving ability to shift public opinion into accepting the climate crisis and peak oil as the greatest existential challenge of this generation?

Global climate disruption is a matter of physics not moral opinion or subjective preference. Physics is not a personal adversary that we can fight or call out for its bigotry. Physics doesn’t care about whether it is socially permissible to bring up the topic of global warming in a presidential campaign. Global climate disruption has its own time table and time is running out. Neither is there any law of physics that says fossil fuel companies can not transform themselves into good corporate citizens who could utilize their vast windfall profits into building climate adaptation infrastructure and climate mitigation strategies. But history demonstrated that they have instead acted like big Tobacco; spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying lawmakers and misinformation campagins to sow seeds of doubt and denial among the public only interested in increasing or maintaining their market share by keeping people hooked and dependent as explained in the book “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes.

Indeed, the recent successes of the action-oriented gay rights movement has been an inspiration the climate movement. Defeating a state ballot measure banning same gender marriage such as in Minnesota would have been unthinkable a few short years ago. When can we finally have an equivalent victory for clean energy and climate friendly agriculture? Civil rights, desegregation and interracial marriage may have been unthinkable generations ago. So where is our big unthinkable breakthrough against entrenched economic interests, particularly the tobacco-like behavior of the fossil fuel industry?

It would be unfair to assume that the LGBTQ movement is finished and triumphant merely because we have hit the national tipping point with same-sex marriage. With laws in over half of the states people can still be fired at will from their jobs just because of their against sexual orientation. But here is what was remarkable. In the first ever electoral defeat of a same sex-marriage ban constitutional amendment in Minnesota was that the primary strategy was creating space for conversations about values and relationships rather than mere “rights”. The organization Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light had the idea to use that same successful formula for initiating personable conversations about the climate crisis in pursuit of equivalent success in engaging the persuadable middle to see climate concerns as relevant to their lives and future.

While there were those who spoke of “defending marriage”, it is not as if people’s successful hetero marriages were being threatened by the mere inclusion of same-sex marriages being allowed. They opposed gay marriage because it allegedly puts their entire moral system and values as a whole under attack. Likewise, when I see policy makers saying no to any climate concern whatsoever and voting no on policies for renewable energy lifeboats, they are launching missiles aimed directly at my hope for the future of all I believe in. When I see the interplay of the Citizens United decision, ALEC, the Koch Brothers etc. all coiling up into a giant Anaconda threatening to strangle the new clean tech economy while still in its crib, I experience great emotional pain over the loss of a future as if I am watching my home is being bulldozed. But then, it is up to us to cut off the head of the Anaconda before it succeeds. If a robust climate movement lends me assurance that those who come after me are going to survive in happy circumstances then it makes it more tolerable to accept the finite nature of my own life. My survival instincts lead me to provide this writing as a service. If I knew at my dying moment that I have done what I could for Earth Community, then I would be at peace.

Perhaps my search to articulate the climate-LGBTQ intersectionality was a subconscious desire to provide a connection point for those involved with MN United/ Vote No to devote the same degree of money, mobilization and success into a campaign for climate justice. The key difference is that the ask from the MN United Vote No campaign was so brutally simplified into voting no on the Constitutional Amendment. Meanwhile the ask on what to do about the climate crisis seems to melt into an awkwardly nuanced open- ended nebulousness of countless hands-on practical action steps and endlessly diverse possible arrangements for movement building. For example, we have an opportunity for local action right here in Minneapolis because the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan provides us a valauble opening to play offense rather than defense on climate. I have personally been working to mobilize for a clean energy partnership that will hold both Xcel and Centerpoint accountable to meeting the city’s ambitious energy and climate goals such as 10% local renewable energy by 2025 and 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2050.

Yes the complexity on how to most strategically and effectively mobilize for climate justice is a big challenge and that is why we need great minds to join together this October 29th. The upside is that there is something for everyone at the never-ending buffet of on ramps and opportunities to get involved with the clean energy/ climate movements. Peterson Toscano’s event has the capability of bringing together a diverse audience not only to be entertained but to find each other’s voices and to recognize like-minded others who are part of an intersectional movement.