“First I would like to thank you for the chance to speak to this committee and your willingness to hear people who would be affected by this bill.

I say affected because should this bill pass, I myself will be left to wonder about the legality of conducting myself in my own personal business and the issues affecting persons who are like me. I am testifying today because I represent two of the groups this bill is targeting. I was here last week and heard (Tennessee State Representative) Ragan admit as much. I am transgender and I am intersex. Both of these groups are small, and intersex people are about as prevalent as redheads, but both are due equal protection under our laws.

I am intersex because of my genetics, and transgender because when I was born the doctor decided I was male. I was not. I am not. But we all make mistakes, even doctors. To err is human. And law is a very human pursuit…”

Rev. Alaina Cobb, Tennessee State House testimony

The photo of the woman sitting in front of the committee a few days ago was unmistakable…even from a distance. The Reverend Alaina Cobb of Chattanooga’s Mercy Junction Justice and Peace ministry has been in my life for over a year now. We met last year while she and a band of determined women joined hundreds challenging Nazis on home ground. You never forget a friendly face after an experience such as that. I had heard that she was up on the hill lobbying for transgender and LGBTQ+ people alongside TEP’s Chris Sanders and fellow souls. My mind was made up long ago about challenging this type of mentality on their own turf…but I secretly hope to be wrong.

“The problem with law is that in cases like this, when groups of people become political footballs, our real lives get sensationalized and pushed aside. The reality is that I am not a threat any more than any other woman, and yet I face a much greater risk of assault than other women. The choice of where to conduct one’s private business is a private issue. One that should be left to the person, and this is a government encroachment into a very personal issue.  

Now I have been through this process, the one of switching which public bathrooms I used. I was sexually assaulted in one before I switched. I am part of that statistic…”

Rev. Alaina Cobb, Tennessee State House testimony

 

Julie Chase: How did you feel about testifying in front of the same people garnering international attention over their public opposition to transgender people? You looked pretty alone in front of them down there…

Reverend Alaina Cobb of Chattanooga’s Mercy Junction Justice and Peace ministry
Reverend Alaina Cobb of Chattanooga’s Mercy Junction Justice and Peace ministry

Rev. Alaina Cobb: While I am used to speaking publicly as a minister this experience was different. At first I was nervous, as I realized my testimony could be all that stood between my people being criminalized in Tennessee or not. But as (State Representatives) Curcio and Lamberth had tried to keep me from testifying, by the time I was called I was too angry at their attempts to silence me to be nervous. I was ready to braid some leather and flip some tables.

“If you add single sex restrooms and locker rooms to this law for the purpose of singling out trans people, the question as I see it is who gets to decide?  Who gets to decide whose gender is real? Medically and scientifically, all the hard medicine states trans people are their identified gender.

What about intersex people? Many intersex people have genitalia outside the norm. Are intersex people simply to cease existing, cease participating in society. Is the law not meant to protect us?

The law on indecent exposure contains the clause if it “will offend an ordinary viewer.” Who gets to decide if an intersex person’s body, the way G-d made them, is offensive. And who gets to tell them which facility they should use in any given situation?

I had breasts before I started using the women’s room, I was harassed and I feared for my safety wherever I went simply because of my genetics. This is not an unique experience and people should not be singled out by their government for being born different. If we don’t go by external genitalia, which as I have just referenced is not a simple matter, are we going to blood test people’s genetics at the bathroom door, because I am XXY and I still wouldnt be able to get in either room?

The idea of all this is just absurd…”

Rev. Alaina Cobb, Tennessee State House testimony

 

Julie Chase: You went up in front of a tough crowd…one that, for better or worse, is developing a fan base all over the world amongst those who think LGBTQ+ people are the enemy to cultural norms. Did you really think you could sway their opinion with your testimony?

Rev. Alaina Cobb: Every time a person speaks truth to power it makes a difference. It may not be felt immediately. It usually isn’t. But this isn’t the work of a day, it is the work of lifetimes, it is the work of a people. We cannot be erased or silenced, every time our voice is heard it matters.

Injustice grows in silence and if we don’t resist every time without fail, that sends a message as well. I know that it is tiring, I know that this isn’t a fight any of us wanted, but it is the one we have. While equity is a beautiful goal and utterly worth the struggle, it is not guaranteed, not without people willing to stand against hate and those willing to peddle it for political profit.

“Why am I, why are we, being targeted rather than protected? Is the law not meant to protect me? Do we not deserve safety?

In the states where laws protecting trans people have passed assault rates have fallen, as statistically we are most at risk. We know this, and yet we are the ones being targeted.

What is the eventual solution sought here if not our complete withdrawal from public life? If I cannot use a restroom safely because of how I was born, how can I hold a job, as a mom how would I change my infant daughter, how can I visit a restaurant or even my own church, how can I participate in society? This law is not going to change which restroom I am safest in; it will only encourage people to discriminate when we have to use one.

Should we have segregated restrooms for trans people? We have had segregated restrooms in the past, we have criminalized bodies in the past. It wasn’t about public safety then; it isn’t now…”

Rev. Alaina Cobb, Tennessee State Senate testimony

 

Julie Chase: Let me ask your opinion here. Is the proposed legislation designed to protect, punish…or to just get transgender and LGBTQ+ people like you and I to leave this state? I am of the opinion that the folks proposing and supporting all of this are doing their best to pass apartheid-type laws that will encourage us to leave the South. It won’t work, but…

Rev. Alaina Cobb: This legislation is two things: the first is an attempt to pander to a bigoted voter base after the Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision made other legislation more costly to run. The second is to make it harder for trans people to exist in the public sphere, which makes telling lies about us and then using those lies to keep these voters motivated much easier.

“Today we are debating the legal merits of a piece of legislation which seeks to criminalize basic human functions and interactions. The proposed law would have been utterly baffling if it wasn’t for (State) Representative Ragan revealing his motive in the original draft. It is intended to target transgender and intersex people. As both a transgender and intersex person, I am disappointed but not surprised. My body has become a political battleground and I do not appreciate it.

The current law already criminalizes indecent exposure anywhere a rational person would not expect a state of undress. This bill however potentially criminalizes any person whatsoever for using locker rooms and bathrooms for their intended purpose.

Including restrooms, changing rooms, and locker rooms, in a law covering indecent exposure, is frankly absurd, legally precarious, and is a solution in search of a problem.  

This bill is clearly intended to criminalize transgender bodies, intersex bodies, and anyone outside aesthetic or cultural norms for performing natural human functions. We and other minorities are the primary people at risk of being harassed for using facilities to their intended purpose. It creates a crime of existence.”

Rev. Alaina Cobb, Tennessee State Senate testimony

 

Julie Chase: You grew up in a religious family environment that was not pro-LGBTQ+. I have previously lived in environments too where Christian theology was used to justify the segregation of public society. Let me ask your honest opinion as an ordained Christian minister – do the people citing Christian scripture and theology have any justification for their stance? I have heard both sides of this argument before…

Rev. Alaina Cobb: Anything can be justified with scripture. Slavery was justified with scripture. So yes, of course they have a leg to stand on. That’s why we need faithful Christians to stand up and say they are not ok with the use of Scripture for the promulgation of hate.


You can look to the Bible and find justification for hate, or for love. The KKK and MLK both spoke from a Christian worldview. As Christians we must own our heritage, the good and the bad, and we must concern ourselves with both. It is not enough to simply extol the good, we must constantly condemn the sins of white supremacy, homophobia, patriarchy, classism, transphobia and other sinful ways of marginalizing the children of G-d as well. This is our fight, it is our job because it is our fellow Christians doing the harm with our sacred scripture.

So yes, unfortunately I cannot simply say this is not a Christian view. It is. It is wrong, and it is sinful, but it is deeply intertwined in Christian thought. And may G-d forgive us for that.

“The reality is trans people are not a boogeyman, we are just a maligned minority who need understanding because the fact of the matter is that sex and gender are not simple issues. A shallow understanding of both is not accurate or scientific and speaking as a minister it is certainly not biblical; Matthew 19:12 for the Christians who want to know…People need to use the facility they are most safe and comfortable in without worrying about the government peaking over the stall. You have been using restrooms right beside us your whole lives. All we ask is that you continue to respect our privacy as we have always respected yours.

I did not ask to be born intersex, that is simply a gift G-d bestowed upon me. I did not ask to be assigned male at birth, that was simply a bad guess by the doctor. I will however ask that these attempts to harass and intimidate the communities (to which) I belong to cease. We are citizens of this country and belong in this state as much as any of the other people who you swore to serve. Please respect our privacy and our dignity in making our own choices, choices that you will never have to make, about real fears you will never have to consider. Thank you for your time.”

Rev. Alaina Cobb, Tennessee State House testimony

And then she rose and walked away. She was just another woman in the modern South fighting for her right to exist and live in peace amongst her own. One hundred years ago, women across the country were fighting for the same right. Fifty years ago, our siblings at Stonewall were doing the same. The reverend is in good company.

Perhaps I should be more visible too.

 

Julie Chase is the pen name of a local trans woman.