Of the Southern states, Tennessee has become to first to have a hate crime statute that protects transgender individuals.
State Attorney General Herbert Slatery – in response to a question posed by Rep. Mike Steward, D-Nashville – issued the following opinion.
“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” Slatery wrote of the current state law that outlines sentence enhancements for hate crimes.
Though the General Assembly in 2000 did add a hate crime factor to the judges’ sentencing rules for crimes targeting a person based on race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or gender — Tennessee does not have an explicit hate crime charge.
While Slatery’s choice affirms that transgender individuals should be covered under the existing law — it must still be tested in court in a case involving bias against a transgender victim.
Stewart wanted clarification from Slatery on whether transgender people would be covered after a discussion last year in a Senate committee in regards to a bill filed by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, to add gender identify as well as expression to Tennessee’s hate crime sentencing law.
The bill did not move but it did however raise the question about whether transgender individuals are already included under the gender protection.
Stewart shared how despite the attorney general’s opinion, he would take a wait-and-see approach prior to suggesting the legislature change the statute or 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 shared.
Back in 2016, authorities in Cookeville said they would not investigate a case as a hate crime that involved a transgender woman’s truck being set on fire after someone wrote “Trump” on the vehicle’s hood.
According to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, at the time, it was said the vandalism did “not fit the criteria of a hate crime.”
A hate crime is defined by the FBI as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, Chris Sanders, said they worked with Stewart to seek the opinion.
The Tennessee Equality Project is an LGBTQ rights advocacy organization.
“What we as a community were all telling ourselves was nothing could be done in Tennessee as far as a penalty enhancement, if the perpetrator were even caught,” Sanders in regards to the 2016 case.
He shared how he is happy with Slatery’s ruling and is hoping that it will be applied to future cases with transgender victims move onward with sentencing.
Along with the hate crime sentencing enhancement in Tennessee, only a few hate crimes can be prosecuted as a felony under the Civil Rights Intimidation Act — which is a statute violation that can be hard to prove.
NOW WATCH: Sweden Actually Turns It’s Garbage Into Energy | Save The World