What is the future of trans rights and gender reform in Scotland without Nicola Sturgeon?

The moment Scotland's Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) bill passed in the Scottish Parliament typifies the journey it's been through - and the debate that continues to rage on.

Cheers and a standing ovation from MSPs and onlookers gave way to cries of "shame, shame on you" from the public gallery.

In December 2022 Scotland voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill. A month later, the UK Government enacted a Section 35 order - blocking the bill from becoming law.

The move was unprecedented, it was the first time Westminster had interfered in Scottish politics in such a way since the formation of Holyrood in 1999.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack was met with cries of "shame" in Parliament when he outlined the government's reasons for the block, namely "that the Bill would have a serious adverse impact, among other things, on the operation of the Equality Act 2010."

In the middle of this noisy and toxic debate are the young trans people of Scotland, of whom this bill would have benefitted the most.

It's their voices I want to share with you today - meet 16-year-old Zander, Dylan who's 18, and Ellie who's 23.

All three said they've feared for their safety and have grown up acutely aware of the risks they each face simply for being who they are.

"Being in the UK kind of scares me," Dylan says - he's even looked to go to university abroad.

"It's not that right now it's unliveable, it's more that we've been on a consistent decline and that's what scares me because how low can we go before people reach a limit - and it does appear quite low".

What is Scotland's Gender Recognition Reform bill?

The GRR bill would have made it easier for trans people in Scotland to change their legal gender by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). That means getting your gender correctly reflected on things like your marriage certificate, death certificate and other bits of admin that life throws up - UCAS applications, for example.

The reforms lowered the age at which a person could begin this process from 18 years old, to 16.

The bill scrapped the requirement for medical evidence to begin this process (which increases the waiting times facing trans people) instead allowing trans people to self-identify. An applicant would have to make a statutory declaration they have lived as their acquired gender for at least three months before applying - longer for under-18s.

Why's it been blocked?

The bill faces fierce opposition from some, who claim simplifying the process could risk the safety of women particularly in same-sex spaces.

The UK government cited these concerns in its reasoning for blocking the bill, and indeed the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls also expressed concerns for "potential risks to the safety of women" in her assessment of the bill.

But Scotland's outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vehemently denied this, she said "this bill doesn't give a predatory man any more ability to abuse women than men already have".

She pointed to the fact you don't currently need to show any form of certificate to access single-sex spaces.

Indeed, in welcoming the passing of the bill Scotland's Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: "The legislation makes no change to the reserved Equality Act 2010 and that principle is enshrined in the Bill. As I have made clear, the Scottish Government continues to support the provision of single-sex services and the rights of women."

Responding to the UN report, supporters of the bill have pointed to this caveat within the GRR and also questioned why the same level of scrutiny wasn't given to similar gender reforms brought in elsewhere in Europe - including Spain and the Netherlands.

Dylan doesn't feel the need to get a GRC (not all trans people want one) but he explains that it just "makes things easier, administratively" to have one.

For Ellie, it's about dignity.

"I want to make sure that I'm recorded correctly on my marriage certificate, that I'm recorded as a wife and a bride - without a GRC I can't guarantee that," she says.

"Equally, when I pass away, I need to make sure I have dignitty in death and that's also necessary to have that GRC certificate.

"It gives me that peace of mind that in those really important life moments I'm going to be able to go through those with the dignity and respect that I think I deserve".

For Zander, the changes the bill would have brought in would have meant he was able to begin to change his legal gender now - making the next stages of life simpler.

"I'm already on a four year wait list to be seen by a gender identity clinic just to see a psychologist who will give me a letter saying I've been diagnosed with gender dysphoria which could take two, three, possibly four appointments.

"And then there's going to see a panel of people who will decide whether I'm trans enough to get [a certificate]."

Humza Yousaf has committed to 'absolutely' challenging the section 35 - both Kate Forbes and Ash Regan oppose elements of the bill. Credit: PA

But the bill has been blocked, leaving Zander's plans on hold.

While Nicola Sturgeon vowed to fight the UK Government in the courts, only one of her potential replacements (Humza Yousaf) has committed to sticking by the bill.

Neither the SNP nor the Scottish Government would provide a statement on whether they would be continuing with the bill, instead directing me to each candidate's campaign.

Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, criticised the UK Government for giving "absolutely no indication of what changes would cause them to revoke the section 35 order". They said "we very much hope that the next First Minister does their utmost to ensure it becomes law".

Meanwhile it's young people like Zander who remain stuck in the centre of one of the most toxic debates of our lifetimes.