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Tennessee Becomes First Southern State With Transgender Protection Law

May 10th, 2019

Tennessee recently became the first state in the South with transgender protection with regards to hate crime laws.
Tennessee recently became the first state in the South with transgender protection with regards to hate crime laws.

Tennessee recently became the first state in the southern part of the country with an affirmation of transgender protection with regards to hate crime law. The term “transgender” includes individuals who have a gender identity or expression that is different from the gender the person was assigned at birth.

How Tennessee Previously Handled Transgender Protection Matters

Tennessee has a history of not prosecuting crimes against transgender individuals as hate crimes. In 2016, law enforcement in Cookeville, Tennessee decided to not classify as a hate crime an offense involving a transgender woman’s vehicle being set on fire after someone wrote “Trump” on the hood. Consequently, this recent determination by the Tennessee Attorney General marks a substantial development for transgender individuals.

While Tennessee does not have an explicit hate crime law, in 2000, Tennessee legislatures added a hate crime factor to judges’ sentencing rules for crimes that involve targeting a person based on ancestry, color, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Based on data compiled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, there was only one criminal offense between 2015 to 2017 that was motivated by anti-trangender hate. Another report conducted by the FBI concluded that 119 incidents motivated by anti-transgender hate occurred during this time. It is important to understand that a large number of additional hate crimes occurred involving motivators, which might later be discovered to have been motivated by an anti-transgender bias.

The Current Status of the Law

A new Tennessee attorney general has stated that judges can apply hate crime enhancements when cases involve victims who are transgender. According to the Attorney General: ” ‘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 current state law that outlines sentence enhancements for hate crimes.” The statement comes after the Attorney General received a request from a lawmaker asking for an explanation of the issue. Even though Tennessee now recognizes a transgender protection law regarding hate crimes, there are still numerous uncertainties about how the law will be applied.

Other LGBT Laws in Tennessee

In addition to this recent law, there are a number of other important regulations in Tennessee that protect transgender individuals. On March 7, 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against transgender individuals. The court has also held that employers are prohibited from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify discrimination against trans and LGBT individuals.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

It is important to understand that in addition to hate crime sentencing in the state of Tennessee, some hate crimes are also capable of being prosecuted under the state’s Civil Right Intimidation Act. It still remains uncertain exactly what influence this new law will have and whether it will inspire other states to pass similar regulations. Each month, our blog details the numerous developments regarding the evolving field of LGBTQ rights. While many of these issues are particularly complex, the Universal Life Church’s blog tries to break them down as best we can.

(image courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo)

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