Nicola Sturgeon has said it is “almost certainly” the case that convicted rapist Isla Bryson is not truly transgender, agreeing that she is only claiming to be so as “an easy way out”.
Scotland’s first minister has been under pressure over the issue ever since Bryson – convicted of raping two women while she was a man called Adam Graham – was sent to a women’s prison.
The SNP leader was pressed on Thursday on whether she thinks Bryson – moved to the male prison estate following public outcry – can be considered a woman.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross tried corner Ms Sturgeon on her belief in self-ID, the process by which a trans person does not require a medical diagnosis to identify as a gender different to that of their birth sex.
Responding, Ms Sturgeon said she does not know if Bryson is lying. “This individual claims to be a woman – what I said was that I don’t have information about whether those claims have validity or not.”
“What I think is relevant in this case is not whether the individual is a man or claims to be a woman or is trans, what is relevant is that the individual is a rapist … That is why the individual is in a male prison, not in the female prison, these are the issues that matter.”
Mr Ross read a quote from one of Bryson’s victims, who said: “I don’t believe he’s truly transgender. I feel as if he’s made a mockery out of them using it. As far as I’m concerned, that was to make things easier for himself.
“You’ve got genuine cases where people are desperate to get reassignment for the right reasons because they’ve been born into that body … not because they’ve raped two people and decided that’s an easy way out.”
Mr Ross asked Ms Sturegon why she is “giving rapists an easy way out” – a comment Ms Sturgeon said “does a disservice to victims of crime”.
Responding, the SNP leader said: “The quote that Douglas Ross narrated there, my feeling is that is almost certainly the case, which is why the key factor in this case is not the individual’s claim to be a woman.
“The key and only important factor in this is that the individual is convicted of rape – the individual is a rapist – and that is the factor that should be the deciding one about the decisions about how that prisoner is now treated.”
Meanwhile, a senior member of the shadow cabinet at Westminster has said lessons can be learned from Scotland’s attempts at gender reforms if Labour wins the next election.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said his party is in favour of reforming gender recognition legislation to make it easier for transgender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate.
But he said the current row between Holyrood and the UK government has been “divisive”. MSPs passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill in Holyrood before the new year, but it was later blocked using an unprecedented Section 35 order.
UK ministers have said the legislation could infringe on the existing UK-wide Equalities Act. Mr Healey urged both governments to work together to improve the bill and said his own party, if in government, would take note of amendments from Scottish Labour.
“We’ve created a constitutional and culture war, with a very discriminated against minority group at the centre of the storm. What Keir Starmer would say now, and UK Labour would say, is it’s not too late.
“If the government would step back and try to work through these things together, then it is possible to reconcile the jurisdictional boundary problems created by the devolution settlement.”
Attempting to clarify Labour’s position, he said the party understands the current gender recognition legislation is outdated, and added: “We’d certainly learn the lessons [from the Scottish parliament].
“We’d ensure that it would be done in the Westminster parliament in the way that some of the Scottish Labour party was arguing. Making sure that you can ensure there are safeguards to protect single-sex spaces for women… and protect the primacy of the Equality Act.”