Based on the eponymous docuseries by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase’ centers around the death of Kathleen Peterson, who is found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her house. Although Kathleen’s husband, Michael Peterson, who finds the body, reports it as an accident, the investigators suspect murder. Michael gets indicted and the prosecution starts their efforts to prove that Michael is the murderer of his wife.
As the investigation progresses, then-District Attorney Jim Hardin and then-Assistant District Attorney Freda Black come across explicit photographs of men on Michael’s computer, leading the viewers to wonder whether he is gay or bisexual in real life. Let us share the answer!
Is Michael Peterson Gay or Bisexual?
Michael Peterson is bisexual. Michael’s sexual orientation was revealed when detectives found pornographic images of men on his computer. They discovered e-mails Michael sent allegedly soliciting sex from a male escort as well. According to Michael, he realized that he is bisexual during his youth, after getting attracted to the shortstop of his baseball team. “It was part of who… who I was trying not to reveal. […] And I realized at that time, I felt a great attraction for females, but for guys, also,” he recounted in Jean-Xavier’s docuseries ‘The Staircase.’
Michael kept his sexual orientation a secret when he joined the military and maintained it likewise in front of his extended family, until the death of Kathleen. In the docuseries, he revealed that Kathleen knew about his bisexuality and was even “comfortable” with the same. However, his sexual orientation was a significant element in the prosecution’s case against him.
“According to the persons that know [Kathleen] well … she would have been infuriated at learning that her husband, who she truly loved, was bisexual and having an extramarital relationship not with another woman but even with a man, which would be humiliating and embarrassing to her,” the then-ADA Freda Black said. “We believe that once she learned this information, that an argument ensued and a homicide occurred,” Freda added. Thus, the prosecution saw the revelation of Michael’s bisexuality as the factor that paved the way for Kathleen’s murder.
As per Michael, the jurors of the murder case were influenced by the revelation that he is bisexual. “Of course that [Michael’s bisexuality] had to have an impact! Why does that translate into murder? It made no sense at all, but it certainly went, there it is in the juror’s head,” he said in the same docuseries. Judge Orlando Hudson, who presided over the murder trial, also accepted that evidence concerning Michael’s sexual orientation likely had a prejudicial impact.
“There are things that I would have changed [if the trial happened in 2017]. All of the homosexual evidence…however it was used, would have been unduly prejudicial to the defense,” Hudson said. Since the disclosure of Michael’s bisexuality, it was used and approached in various ways in the murder trial. While the prosecution regarded it as the “trigger” of the murder, Michael went on to believe that it was wrongfully used against him in the trial, which ended with finding him guilty of the murder of Kathleen. In 2017, he submitted an Alford plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to time served, with no additional prison time.