|Claiming Our Names
Rev. Otto O’Connor
|This reflection was originally published on June 10, 2020. We’re grateful to Rev. Otto for allowing us to republish it today.
|“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”
—Marsha P. Johnson
|Happy Pride. It feels strange to say that; this moment is anything but happy because of an assault in this country on Black and brown bodies that has never really ended.
The movement for Black Lives and what’s become known as “Pride” aren’t the same movement, but they certainly aren’t separate movements. There have always been Black Queer people, no matter how much the white LGBTQ+ movement has pushed them to the fringes and tried to claim it for themselves.
I claimed Otto as my name as an adult: a symbol of my identity as a transgender person. I claimed this name to help me think about who I was, and how I was going to be in the world.
But Otto wouldn’t be my name unless a Black transwoman named Marsha P. Johnson and a Latina named Sylvia Rivera responded to police-induced violence at the Stonewall Inn in 1969: two women of color who claimed those names for themselves.
It wouldn’t be my name if it weren’t for Rita Hester, a Black transwoman who was murdered in 1998, and the vigil of her death that led to the annual reading of the names of the dead: our beloved Transgender siblings killed by anti-transgender violence—the overwhelming majority of whom are transgender women of color—who often aren’t called by their right name in their obituaries or funerals.
These aren’t just names on a list; they’re whole lives with hopes and dreams just as our own. We have to say their names. I wouldn’t be able to live as I do without these ancestors, who lived their queer lives unapologetically. My liberation is tied up in the liberation of Black and brown lives. These are my siblings being killed. Now is not the time to stay silent.
And so I claim responsibility as a white person to speak up; to decenter myself; to accept the ways in which I’ve gone along with the insidious anti-Blackness in this country.
I invite you to name for yourself what your commitments will be—because we need to name them again and again (these might be different depending on where you are in this struggle; for Black and brown folks, this might simply be surviving right now).
Name them. And don’t let them go.
Spirit of Life, remind us that our struggles for liberation are connected, from our ancestors to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade; to protestors—especially the Black and brown protestors lifting their voices. May we all remember how inextricably we are linked in this fight for justice and freedom. May it be so.