State Watch

Tennessee becomes first Southern state with hate crime protections for transgender people

Tennessee is the first state in the South to allow judges to apply hate crime enhancements when sentencing cases that target transgender people. 

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery (R) last week issued an opinion stating that transgender identity would be covered under the state's hate crime law because they were singled out over their gender, The Tennessean reported Thursday.

"A defendant who targets a person for a crime because that person is transgender has targeted the person because of his or her gender within the meaning" of the state's current enhancements for hate crimes, Slatery wrote.

Tennessee is one of a few states that does not have an explicit hate crime charge, the newspaper noted. The General Assembly, however, added hate crime as a factor to judges' sentencing rules in 2000 for crimes where a victim was targeted based on their race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or gender.

Slatery's opinion means that transgender individuals will be protected under the state's existing law; however, it has not been tested in court yet.

The attorney general issued the decision in response to a question posed by Tennessee state Rep. Mike Stewart (D) about whether transgender individuals were already included under the gender protection.

A bill failed in the state Senate last year that would have added gender identity and expression to the existing hate crime sentencing statue, the newspaper noted.

Stewart said he will "wait and see" how this opinion impacts the courts before deciding if the legislature needs to develop an explicit hate crime charge.

"Let's see how the courts actually utilize the law in practice and let's see how much protection it provides," Stewart said.

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