In an increasingly rare bit of good news for Tennessee's LGBT community, Tennessee's Attorney General Herbert Slattery issued an opinion today declaring that transgender individuals are covered by existing hate crimes legislation.
The executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), Chris Sanders, announced the release of the decision this afternoon on Facebook. He wrote:
GREAT NEWS! Last year there was a good hate crimes bill that would have added gender identity and expression to Tennessee's hate crime law. Legislators didn't move forward with the bill because they thought maybe "gender" already included transgender people.
Months ago, Jenny and I talked it over and we decided it would be best to get a Tennessee Attorney General's opinion. Rep. Mike Stewart worked with us on this and asked the Attorney General's office. The answer has come.
In the Attorney General's opinion, transgender people are, indeed, covered by Tennessee's hate crime law. See the attached PDF.
It's a good, solid victory!
In the opinion, Slattery notes that Tennessee Code Annotated was altered in 2000 to allow "a hate-crime factor which permits the court to enhance a defendant's sentence" in certain cases. A sentence enhancement is warranted when the target is chosen because of "the defendant's belief or perception regarding" the victim's "race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or gender."
Slattery argues that "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 § 40-35-114(17)."
The necessary conclusion, therefore, is "For purposes of hate-crime enhancement, a crime committed against a person because that person manifests a gender that is different than his or her biological gender at birth - i.e. a crime committed against a person because he or she is transgender - is thus necessarily committed because of, at least in part, the person's gender."
While the opinion is in and of itself quite simple, it is remarkable coming at a time when the General Assembly itself continues to target the state's transgender population.
Other news affecting Tennessee's trans citizens: Vandy opens transgender health clinic; Community shares insights, experiences of transgender life in Nashville