• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

A lose-lose situation or a well needed public debate? How the case of Isla Bryson appears to have no right answer

ByGeorgia Abbott

Mar 12, 2023
Activists flying a Pride flag

The case of 31 year old Isla Bryson, convicted for the rape of two women, has sparked debate and divided the Scottish public. Many express concerns over the safety of female prisoners if rapists, who committed rape when male, transition following the offence, or after convicted. It appears that Scottish politicians, both conservative and SNP, share the view that it is in the interests of the safety of female prisoners and justice for the victims, to incarcerate rapists such as Isla Bryson in prisons of the gender which they identified as at the point of the offence. This of course has proven problematic for the trans community, as the gender that Isla Bryson now identifies as has been disregarded, leaving little faith in Scottish politicians to recognise gender transitions more broadly. 

Isla Bryson was known as Adam Graham when she assaulted two women in 2016 and 2019 in Clydebank and Glasgow. Bryson denied both allegations, claiming that in both instances the women had sex with her consensually. Although she now openly identifies as female and was originally an inmate at Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling, following public outcry, Nicola Sturgeon made the decision to transfer her to the male wing of HMP Edinburgh. 

One side of the argument, and the one which has appeared to have been given the most press and political attention is that if Isla Bryson and other trans female prisoners are housed in female prison, it will pose a threat to the safety of other prisoners. Kate Coleman, director of Keep Prisons Single Sex, said that many female inmates are incarcerated for committing crimes which were a result of domestic abuse from a man, making them a “captive audience” for transgender inmates. However, a recent urgent review of the situation ordered by Keith Brown, Justice Secretary, concluded that no female inmates at Cornton Vale were at risk when Bryson was held there, and that she did not come into contact with any other prisoners during her time there. 

After speaking to students at the University of Edinburgh, it is clear that many believe that politicians and the media are weaponizing the “worst possible kind” of trans women to attack the trans community and trans rights. The press has used various examples of instances where people who knew Bryson previously as Adam Graham, do not believe that she is genuine about her identity as female, despite her claim in court that she knew she was female at just four years old, but did not decide to transition until she was 29. She is currently taking hormones in preparation for gender reassignment surgery. Isla Bryson’s ex-wife, Shonna Graham believes that her former partners transition is a “sham for attention” and that her aim is “to get himself a much easier sentence”. One of Bryson’s victims also believed that she is faking her gender identity to “make life easier”, a claim supported by Nicola Sturgeon, who believes that Bryson is “almost certainly” faking being transgender. 

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, stated that he believes “a double rapist, anyone who rapes a woman, is a man. They cannot be considered anything else”, and that Bryson is “an abusive man seeking to exploit loopholes in the government’s current policy”. Sturgeon responded by saying “my feeling is that is almost certainly the case, which is why the key factor in this case is not the individuals claim to be a women” but “The key and in fact 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 in decisions about how that prisoner is now treated”. 

The Scottish Prison Service is revising its Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment Policy Review. Keith Brown has said that under current circumstances and until the review is complete, no transgender person with a history of violence against women will be placed in a female jail, or transferred from male to female estates. Newly convicted transgender prisoners will be placed in a prison of their gender at birth, prior to further assessment. This does however beg the question of who this process is doing justice for, as many believe that this process is damaging to the trans community and delegitimises gender identity at wide. 

A third year Social Policy student at the University of Edinburgh told The Student:

“The utilisation by TERFs and the media of the worst possible individual from one of the most oppressed groups in society isn’t an exercise in critique or accountability, it’s a dishonest and malicious tactic. Using that example to establish a precedent that the state can choose to veto an individual’s own self-identity in any circumstance is a deliberate attempt to create conditions on the human rights of trans people everywhere and needs to be resisted”.

This seems to be a view shared by many which lacks media attention and recognition from MPs. 

There is no doubt that the response of some of the public, the press, and MPs from a variety of parties is damaging for the trans community and the recognition and representation of trans rights in public discourse. The failure of politicians to separate Isla Bryson’s gender from her convictions shows a lack of gender recognition, since their perception of Bryson as female is swayed by other factors. 

It is evident that the main issue of concern to the trans community is the lack of gender recognition exhibited by MPs from various political standpoints, as well as the way that the press is weaponizing a terrible individual, who happens to be trans, as a tactical attack on the trans community. Few are distinguishing between Bryson’s gender identity and the fact that she is a rapist, and through labelling rape as a ‘manly’ trait, that by default her gender must be male. It seems that the mistake of politicians is the influence of what Bryson has done on her identity as female, rather than treating her gender and convictions as separate entities. Also, the way that politicians regarded Bryson’s transition as “an easy way out” undermines the struggle and strength it takes all trans people to embark on a transition. It appears that Bryson’s case has split the public in two, however politicians have taken the side of those concerned over the safety of female prisoners, leaving the trans community and those who advocate trans rights in dismay.

Transgender Rally” by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.