Accusations that Isla Bryson is not truly transgender are “almost certainly the case”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister was pressed on whether she thinks Bryson – who was convicted of raping two women while she was a man called Adam Graham – is a woman.
Bryson was initially taken to Cornton Vale prison near Stirling – Scotland’s only all-female jail – after being convicted, before being moved to the male estate following public outcry.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross used First Minister’s Questions on Thursday to try and 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.
Ms Sturgeon said she does not know if Bryson is lying.
She said: “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.
“But I don’t think Douglas Ross and I are disagreeing here, because 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 how the individual should be described, and it is that that should be the main consideration in deciding how the individual is dealt with – 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 the First Minister why she is “giving rapists an easy way out” – a comment Ms Sturgeon said “does a disservice to victims of crime”.
Responding, the First Minister 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.”
Ms Sturgeon went on to say it is “really important” to “look seriously” at the issues thrown up by the Bryson case, adding: “But that in doing so, we bear in mind two things.
“Firstly, as I’ve said, that we do not further stigmatise trans people generally – I think that is important – but secondly that we don’t cause undue concern amongst the public.
“If there are issues to be addressed we address them, but we do that in a way that’s not just calm, but doesn’t misrepresent the situation, because that is in nobody’s interest.”
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 from becoming law by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack 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.
He told the PA news agency: “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.”
He said his 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.
“And above all, make sure that you do it in a way that is inclusive and not divisive. Sadly we’ve seen the opposite.
“I hope both governments now will step back. Learn immediately from the mistakes they’ve made, and find a way to resolve the tensions.”