Tennessee is first state in US south to protect trans people with hate crime law

A trans rights campaigner, representing Tennessee, which has included trans people in its hate crime laws

Tennessee has reportedly become America’s first southern state to affirm that trans people are protected by its hate crime legislation.

On February 8, Tennessee attorney general Herbert Slatery issued a statement in response to a question from Democratic representative Mike Stewart.

He confirmed that trans people are included in the existing legislation protecting people against crimes motivated by gender.

“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 said of the current laws, reports Nashville Tennessean.

It is believed that Tennessee is the first of America’s southern states—also including the Carolinas, Virginia, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama—to include trans people in its hate crime laws.

Tennessee attorney general clarifies current hate crime laws for trans people

Tennessee does not have explicit hate crime legislation.

However, in 2000, the general assembly added a hate crime element for judges to factor in when sentencing for crimes that targeted a person based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and ancestry.

“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.”

—Tennessee attorney general Herbert Slatery

Stewart had asked Slatery for clarification on whether trans people are included in the state’s hate crime protections after a bill was filed by Democratic senator Sara Kyle.

Confirmation that trans people are included in Tennessee’s hate crime laws came after introduction of bill

Kyle had sought to add gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crime sentencing legislation, reports the Nashville Tennessean.

The bill has not yet been passed by the state, but it led to questions about whether trans people were included in the existing laws protecting marginalised groups.

Stewart told the Nashville Tennessean that he would see how Slatery’s clarification of the current law plays out regarding whether he would take any further action.

“Let’s see how the courts actually utilize the law in practice and let’s see how much protection it provides,” he said.

A trans rights campaigner representing the state of Tennessee confirming that trans people are included in its hate crime laws

A trans rights campaigner in Washington DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In the US, trans people, particularly trans women of colour, face higher rates of violence and discrimination.

At least 26 trans people were murdered in the US in 2018, with the majority being trans women of colour

However, it is believed the actual number could be higher as there is no official data collection on crimes against trans people, and trans murder victims are sometimes misgendered by local press.

In November, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a report looking at the disproportionate levels of violence against America’s transgender community.

It found that 74 percent of identified transgender murder victims were misgendered (referred to using their birth gender) or deadnamed (referred to using their birth name) in initial police or media reports surrounding their deaths.

“Transgender people face devastating levels of discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” reads the report.

“These barriers are even higher for Black transgender people, who have double the unemployment rate of all transgender people, and four times that of the US general population.”