NICOLA Sturgeon’s keynote address to mark the 30th anniversary of the Zero Tolerance campaign was disrupted by a heckler protesting against the government's reforms of Scotland's gender recognition laws.
An unnamed woman told the SNP leader she had "let down vulnerable women in Scotland."
The protest came after delegates heading to the gathering in Edinburgh were told that “to create a safe and supported environment for our guests” they should refrain “from discussions of the definition of a woman, and single sex spaces, in relation to the gender recognition act”.
The legislation is currently working its way through Holyrood. It aims to reform the process by which trans people can obtain a gender recognition certificate.
The new Bill removes the need for medical assessment and allows someone to obtain a gender recognition certificate after six months.
Some critics of the law have raised concerns that the new legislation could have an impact on the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act, and could potentially place women in danger from men who might abuse a self-identification system.
The woman who interrupted the First Minister's speech said the change in law would allow "paedophiles, sex offenders and rapists to self-ID in Scotland and put women at risk."
She added: "Women campaigning for women's rights are not against trans people. Shame on you for letting down vulnerable women in Scotland, not allowed to have their own spaces away from any male."
The protester told the audience that she had supported trans rights for 30 years, said: “I’ve received rape threats, death threats from men who self-ID as women.
"Women are being assaulted because they are standing up for women’s rights. Shame on you.
"You have fermented this culture in Scotland. I see you and thousands of women in Scotland see you too.”
The protestor was asked to leave.
The First Minister then apologised to the other attendees of the conference if it was her presence which had sparked the outburst.
She added: “I do not seek to close down anybody’s freedom of speech. It is important that voices are heard.”
But Ms Sturgeon added that it was important not to “further stigmatise a group of women who are already stigmatized”.
The First Minster said she would continue working with the sector on “achieving that vision of a country free from violence against women and girls”.
She said: “I have a determination to do whatever I can do to help build a Scotland where women and girls can and do feel safe.”
The heckler was praised on Twitter by author JK Rowling, who has been an outspoken critic of the reforms. She said Ms Sturgen had been "accidentally exposed to some freedom of speech."
The Harry Potter writer said she would like to send the woman “a crate of her favourite tipple”.
The Scottish Government denied suggestions that the request not to discuss the Gender Recognition Reform Bill was made by the First Minister or officials.
Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton said the request was “alarming”, particularly in light of last week’s intervention from Reem Alsalem, the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, who urged the government to pause the bill.
Ms Hamilton said: “Women should be able to raise potential threats to our safety with the First Minister. It is not for anyone in Scotland to limit free speech over legitimate concerns about women’s protection.
“I hope the First Minister will clarify if anyone in the government or her party asked this charity to ban discussion of women’s safety in relation to the GRR Bill.
“It would be completely wrong to shut down discussion of women’s single sex spaces. This is an important issue that demands free debate and full consideration of all views.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "It is untrue to suggest that First Minister or Scottish Government officials asked Zero Tolerance to ban or limit discussion in any way whatso ever." However, the author JK Rowling, a persistent critic of the reforms, tweeted: "I'd say this is unbelievable, but of course it isn't.
"When our First Minister attends an event about male violence towards women and girls, the last thing she wants is some uppity woman mentioning the importance of female-only refuges or crisis centres."