At a summit in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to pursue hate crimes against transgender Americans "aggressively and appropriately." According to Politico, he told federal prosecutors, “We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims."
Advocates, however, are cautious. Sessions pledging to combat anti-transgender violence as the head of the Justice Department is out-of-step with some of the votes he took as a senator, including explicitly voting against extending hate crimes protections for LGBTQ Americans.
As a senator, Sessions articulated why he didn't believe that LGBTQ citizens should be protected from targeted discrimination by way of hate crimes. In fact, he argued in 2009 that hate crime laws were unconstitutional, because they punished some criminals more harshly on the basis of a belief or suspicion about what was in their heart or mind at the time.
"Is a legitimate justifiable reason to punish one rape differently than another rape, simply because someone decided that the first rape was committed out of hate—or actually, because of the gender of the victim?" he asked, according to Mother Jones. “I think the victims would say the same thing: The criminal should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Despite those previous positions, Sessions is claiming he'll uphold existing law by "aggressively" pursuing hate crimes cases when transgender Americans are targeted, although whether he and his Department of Justice make good on that promise remains to be seen.
According to a report by Politico, Sessions made the remarks to a gathering of federal prosecutors this week, although he used the word "transgendered" — which the community considers an offensive and impolitic term — rather than "transgender."
We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims. ... I personally met with the department’s senior leadership and the civil rights division to discuss a spate of murders — a number of murders around the country of transgendered individuals. A lot of concerns and questions were out there about how this was occurring and what we were doing about it.
Considering some of the Trump administration's other actions on LGBTQ issues, and more specifically those that affect trans Americans ― like the rollback of federal protections for transgender students ― advocates are wary. Vice News reported that Brian Levin, a hate crimes expert and professor at California State University, San Bernardino, said, "Gender hate crimes in [Sessions’] speech, that’s an important step. But beyond words, we need actions.”
Nevertheless, it does comport with Sessions' promise during his confirmation hearings to prosecute cases thoroughly, without regard to his previous political positions as a senator.