Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed federal authorities to investigate the rising rate of murders involving transgender victims.
Sessions spoke at a national summit on hate crimes in Washington D.C. on Thursday and advised the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI are weighing possible federal intervention into ongoing investigations related to the reported murders that have taken place over the last three years. The murder rate for transgender victims in the U.S. has risen from 16 in 2014 to 27 in 2016. A total of 14 have been murdered already in the first six months 2017.
“I personally met with the department’s senior leadership and the civil rights division to discuss a spate of murders around the country of transgender individuals,” Sessions said. “I specifically directed that the files of these cases be reviewed to ensure that there is no single person or group behind these murders, or to what extent hate crime motivation lies behind such murders. I receive regular updates on the status of that review.”
Sessions also made reference to the conviction of Joshua Brandon Vallum, who was sentenced to 49 years in prison last month for the 2015 murder of his transgender ex-girlfriend, 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson. According to Sessions, this was the first murder of a transgender person to be prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Attorney General vowed his office would continue to aggressively enforce the law when transgender people are the victims.
The move comes as a surprise to transgender advocates who have previously criticized Sessions for his poor record on transgender rights. Just this past February, Sessions had supported the Trump administration’s rollback of protections for transgender students who need to use restroom and locker room facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
The announcement couldn’t come at a more critical time, as 2017 is currently on pace to be the deadliest year for the transgender community.