LETTER FROM LONDON
The controversy lasted only a few days but it damaged the image of the Scottish Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and its intensity proves the degree of polarization of public opinion in the United Kingdom on the status of transgender people. On Tuesday January 24, British media reported that Isla Bryson, 31, from Clydebank (in the county of West Dunbartonshire, Scotland) was convicted of the rape of two women – one assaulted in Clydebank in 2016 and the another in Drumchapel, a district of Glasgow, in 2019.
Isla Bryson, referred to by Glasgow High Court as a woman, only came forward as a transgender woman (not biologically transitioned) from 2019, after being prosecuted for these sexual assaults. On Tuesday January 24, it emerged that the Scottish Prisons Administration intended to send her to serve her sentence in the women’s prison of Cornton Vale, near Stirling (central Scotland).
The Scottish government initially refused to intervene. Keith Brown, the minister for justice in Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet, declared on January 25 that this assignment decision rested only with the prison administration (the Scottish Prison Service, SPS), the competent authority. It is up to her to assess the risk posed by such a prisoner and to refer him to the appropriate establishment accordingly. “The SPS is far more competent than any of us here to assess the risk posed [par des personnes transgenres condamnées pour crimes sexuels] », said the minister at Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament.
This prospect – a rapist in a women’s prison – immediately sparked strong reactions, with opponents of the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill, passed by a large majority in Holyrood at the end of 2022, seeing it as proof that their concerns about screws of this text were justified. The latter facilitates the acquisition by trans people of a gender recognition certificate establishing that their gender “is not the one who [leur] was assigned at birth”. They can request this document from the age of 16 without medical advice (by simple gender self-identification).
A number of feminist associations have fought for months against this bill, explaining that it could be hijacked by opportunists or sexual predators claiming to be women to better approach women in the spaces reserved for them – changing rooms, shelters, toilets, prisons. The Scottish prison administration seems to have adopted the “self-identification” approach advocated by the bill, even before it was effective: it was moreover blocked by the British government, which refused to pass it. into Scottish law, on the pretext that the text would affect laws in force across the United Kingdom, in particular the Equality Act 2010.
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