Rhode Island transgender hate crimes bill becomes law

In an unexpected, and mostly unnoticed, move earlier this month, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, a former Republican who became an Independent in 2007, signed the Transgender Hate Crimes Monitoring Bill (S2488), which is a critical step toward reducing hate-based violence against transgender people in Rhode Island.

The measure provides training for local law enforcement in addressing hate crimes against transgender people, and requires mandatory hate crimes data collection/reporting requirements for crimes based on gender expression and identity. The Task Force provided technical assistance to local advocates in drafting the law, which already included sexual orientation.

Inclusive hate crimes laws at the state level are necessary despite existing federal hate crimes laws. In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This law was a major victory in the fight for equality for LGBT people because it sent a message that our federal government will not tolerate violent crimes that target individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, the federal law does not provide protections for non-violent or property hate crimes, which are generally included under state laws; nor does it include mandatory reporting requirements, making it difficult to assess the frequency of hate crimes against LGBT people.

The Transgender Hate Crimes Monitoring Bill adds to Rhode Island’s existing law, which already includes robust nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, including those related to housing, employment and public accommodations.

The Transgender Hate Crime Monitoring Bill extends part of the state’s hate crimes protections to transgender people by providing support and training to local law enforcement, and providing important statistics on crimes motivated by gender identity and expression bias.

While the Rhode Island law takes an important step toward equality, it does not outlaw hate crimes or heighten the sentencing for hate crimes based on gender identity and expression. Thirteen other states, including Rhode Island’s neighbors, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have clear and inclusive hate crimes laws that outlaw hate crimes motivated by animus based on gender identity and expression.