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Comedic Artist and Climate Change Activist Performs for Students
“As a white guy growing up in America, I was under the impression that any door I knocked on was going to open,” said Peterson Toscano. “To suddenly discover that this door was slammed shut [because of my sexuality] was a bit shocking.”
Toscano shared his life story with more than 150 Bentley students and staff in a recent event in the Koumantzelis Auditorium, performing Everything is Connected: An Evening of Stories, Most Weird, Many True. The evening was part of Toscano’s three-day campus residency, in which he visited with students studying law and sustainability, and those involved in service-learning, PRIDE (People Respecting Individuality and Diversity) and Greek life. During his visit, the comedic artist, theological scholar and climate change activist wove his many pursuits together to inspire Bentley students to learn — and take action.
FOCUSING THE LENS
Toscano kicked off Everything is Connected with tales from his self-described “gay odyssey” over the first 17 years of his life including support groups and exorcisms in Brooklyn and conversion therapy in Memphis. When he finally accepted his gay lifestyle, the devout Roman Catholic sought a way to combine his faith and sexuality, searching the Bible for non-conformists who transgressed and transcended gender.
Toscano’s research led to Jacob, who gives his son Joseph a coat of many colors. In Hebrew, Toscano explained that the words for this coat, “ketonet passim,” are the same as Tamar’s gown from the book of Samuel — a garment for a princess. Perhaps this is the reason Joseph’s brothers beat him, destroying a coat that, if it were masculine, they instead would have stolen.
Whoever tells the story directs the lens, Toscano said.
A QUEER RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
“The way they talked about gay men when I was growing up is very much the same way we talk about terrorists today,” Toscano told the audience: A national security risk. An agenda that would destroy the nation. A threat to undermine family values. He spoke of GRID — the Gay Related Immune Deficiency, later known as HIV/AIDS — and the country’s reaction as it spread. The government refused to acknowledge there was a problem, he said. Class, race and access to healthcare heavily influenced treatment.
The government’s response to climate change today is just as terrifying, Toscano continued: There is widespread denial and a blind eye to its greater effect on low-income and minority communities.
In the face of the AIDS epidemic, young people rallied and demanded change. “They had to break the collective silence,” he said. Through stories, film, music and ribbons, “in a very short time they changed laws, policies and systems” for everyone.
He assured Bentley students: “You can do the same.”
Toscano’s performance and residency were funded by the David LeClair Memorial Fund, created in 2017 by the family and friends of David LeClair ’11 to carry forth his values.
LeClair had been president of PRIDE and the Green Society; chair of the Bentley Student Diversity Council; and a trustee scholar and Honors Program student. While at Bentley, LeClair routinely crossed boundaries to foster communication, respect and openness. The community mourned in 2013, when he was killed in an accident during a bike tour to benefit the American Lung Association.
Fortunately, his acts of positive change live on.