Tennessee Becomes First Southern State To Enact Hate Crime Protections For Transgender People

Tennessee has become the first state in the South to allow judges to apply hate crime enhancements when sentencing cases that target transgender people, The Tennessean reported Thursday.

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

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

The Hill notes:

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.