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Transgender woman convicted of 2 rapes will be sent to men's prison in Scotland

London — A transgender woman who raped two women before beginning to transition will not be housed in Scotland's only all-female prison, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Thursday. Isla Bryson, 31, was convicted at the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday of raping one woman in 2016 and another in 2019.

Bryson, who claimed during the trial to have decided to transition gender at aged 29, was reportedly due to be held at Cornton Vale women's prison ahead of sentencing next month, stirring widespread public anger.

Isla Bryson court case
Isla Bryson, 31, arrives at the High Court in Glasgow, Scotland, January 23, 2023. Andrew Milligan/PA Images/Getty

"Given the understandable public and parliamentary concern in this case I can confirm to parliament that this prisoner will not be incarcerated at Cornton Vale," Sturgeon told Scotland's devolved parliament. "I hope that provides assurance to the public."

During court proceedings, Bryson claimed to have wanted to change gender since the age of four and to be currently taking hormones and seeking surgery to complete gender reassignment. But Bryson's estranged wife, Shonna Graham, 31, has questioned her former partner's motives for the decision in newspaper interviews.

"Never once did he say anything to me about feeling he was in the wrong body or anything," she told the Daily Mail of Bryson, describing it as a "sham for attention."

Yvette Cooper, the U.K. shadow interior minister, told BBC Radio on Thursday that "this dangerous rapist should not be in a women's prison."

"That is straightforward and I think most people would agree with that," Cooper said.

Debate over transgender rights in schools 02:17

Campaigners, including politicians and a human rights expert at the United Nations, had raised concerns over Bryson being housed in a women's prison.

However, Fiona Cruickshanks, head of operations and protection at the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), earlier said that "any transgender person who is admitted into custody is admitted into the establishment that matches their identified gender.

"If an individual inmate poses a particular risk, they can be removed and separated from other prisoners," she added.

Sturgeon's decision on the case came with transgender issues in the spotlight in Scotland. Sturgeon's semi-autonomous Scottish government passed legislation last month to make it easier for people to self-identify their gender.

Scottish Daily Politics 2023
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seen on the way to First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament, January 26, 2023, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ken Jack/Getty

Just one week ago, the U.K. government in London, which holds sway over Scotland's "devolved" administration on a number of matters, blocked the Scottish law from passing. The legislation would allow people aged 16 or older to change the gender designation on their identity documents by self-declaration, removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

It's been hailed as a landmark bill by trans rights activists and would set Scotland apart from the rest of the U.K., where a medical diagnosis is required to legally transition gender.

The British government blocked the bill on the grounds that it could undermine laws that guarantee women and girls single-sex spaces — a claim dismissed by trans rights supporters as fearmongering.

Sturgeon, who supports the legislation, has vowed to challenge the U.K. government's veto in the courts, calling it a "profound mistake."

The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Douglas Ross, issued a statement alluding to the legislation, saying that before it had even been adopted, "rapists are already exploiting current laws... We shouldn't make it any easier for them to attack women."

Several countries around the world have legalized gender self-recognition, including the U.K.'s neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, as well as Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark and Iceland.  

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