Tennessee has become the first southern state to protect transgender individuals from hate crimes, reported the Tennessean.

Tennessee attorney General Herbert Slatery issued a statement confirming trans people are included in existing legislation that protects people from hate 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.

The state doesn’t have an explicit hate crime charge, but the General Assembly in 2000 added a hate crime factor for judges when sentencing for crimes that target a person because of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, origin, or ancestry.

A bill to add gender identity and expression to Tennessee’s hate crime sentencing law was introduced last year by Sen. Sara Kyle, but it failed to move. Slatery released his statement after questions were raised after the introduction of the bill by Rep. Mike Stewart as to whether transgender people were already covered under the protection.

Stewart said that he will wait and see if the attorney general’s interpretation will take hold in court before he suggests the legislature develop an explicit hate crime charge or alter the statute.

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

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