Uplift: Uplifting LGBTQ+ Experience Within and Beyond Unitarian Universalism

It’s Not About Me

Rev. Otto O'Connor, newly settled minister of First Parish in Malden

"And so I commit right now that I will use the relative privilege afforded to me to continue to fight to support transgender people, in my congregation and across our world..." - Rev. Otto O'Connor

By Otto O’Connor

There’s been some news coverage of my recent call to the First Parish in Malden, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that many of the local publications in Malden and the surrounding area have focused broadly on my call to this congregation. However, this piece that aired on on NECN and NBC Boston focused almost entirely on my identity as a transgender person. Since it was on TV it was the mostly widely shared piece of coverage of my new position. This was fine, and I knew when the reporter called me that this is what they would focus on.

But it was a little weird, to be honest.

You see, it’s a strange thing to be on the news for doing nothing different from many of my colleagues. It’s a strange thing to have my identity be newsworthy, when for me, it’s just a part of my life. And it’s strange to me when my friends congratulate me on all of this.

The congregation that has called me, the First Parish in Malden, began their work of radical welcome long before I got there. There are many members and attendees who are transgender, non-binary, and all along the LGBTQ spectrum. These news pieces missed the fact that I wanted to begin my ministry at this congregation, because I felt that this congregation was ready for a transgender minister.

How did I know they were ready? They had transgender people in leadership, and more than simply a token person here or there. They recognized, even before I was announced as their candidate, the importance of renewing their Welcoming Congregation status and have been working to make that a reality. Before I arrived, this congregation had been a place that felt welcoming to transgender people, and talking with those LGBTQ identified members helped me to see what they saw in this congregation: A deep commitment to radical welcome and a willingness to push themselves through difficult changes.

Which is not to say there is no more work to be done to become a more welcoming congregation. It’s also not to say that it isn’t still a historical moment for a congregation, any congregation, to call an openly transgender person as their minister despite the many ministers and religious leaders, both UU and otherwise, who have lead the way before me. They are my spiritual ancestors.

But it’s also important to say that my identity as a white middle-class transgender man, one who is often read as a man, has afforded me countless privileges in this process. No one is confused when I tell them what pronoun I use, for example, and I do not fear for my safety on a regular basis simply walking down the street. All of these other identities I hold help me to fit neatly into the “white man” box that many people are used to identifying with positions of leadership, which is why intersectionality is so important when examining issues of privilege and oppression.

And so I commit right now that I will use the relative privilege afforded to me to continue to fight to support transgender people, in my congregation and across our world, and especially non-binary people and transgender people of color. It’s not about me. Our faith demands nothing less.

May we live into a world of radical welcome beyond what we ever could have imagined. Amen.

About the Author

Otto O’Connor

Rev. Otto O’Connor has served the First Parish in Malden, Massachusetts since 2017. He is a white, openly transgender man from Canada, and lives in Malden with his wife, Amy, and their 5-month-old baby.


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