First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said transphobia should be treated with zero tolerance in the same way as racism or homophobia.
She posted a message about the issue on Twitter, saying that “on some days silence is not an option” after hearing reports of significant numbers of people leaving the SNP because they do not consider it to be a safe, tolerant place for trans people.
Ms Sturgeon said this is “not acceptable” to her as SNP leader and that trans people have “as much right as any of us to be safe, secure and valued for who they are”.
In the message posted on Tuesday evening, which she said was not scripted but “comes from my heart”, Ms Sturgeon said she does not care if people accuse her of being woke and that “sometimes, particularly as a leader, it’s vital to speak up for what is right and against injustice”.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 27, 2021
She said: “Over the course of the day I’ve heard reports of mainly young people in significant numbers leaving the SNP.”
She added: “It grieves me deeply that you’ve reached this conclusion after much soul searching because you consider at this stage the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people.
“That’s not acceptable to me as SNP leader. I will do everything I can to change that impression and persuade all of you that the SNP is your party and that you should come home where you belong.”
It comes amid a heated debate in the SNP on the controversial issue of gender recognition, with some in the party strongly opposed to moves by the Scottish Government to make it easier for people to legally change their gender identity.
Ms Sturgeon said there are differences of opinion on gender recognition reform, and that these should be debated “openly and respectfully” but that “no debate can be a cover for transphobia”.
She went on: “Trans people have as much right as any of us to be safe, secure and valued for who they are.
“Transphobia is wrong and we must treat it with the zero tolerance we treat racism or homophobia.
“Those are the principles I want to characterise the SNP and the country that I am privileged to lead.
“They are also the principles and values that I want to underpin the independent Scotland I’ve spent my whole life campaigning for.
“I don’t support that as an end in itself but as a means to a better, fairer, more just Scotland.
“Some will criticise this message, say it doesn’t go far enough or that the words are hollow unless we prove we mean them. I’m determined we will.”
Those who are concerned about making it easier for people to legally change their gender fear the loss of safe spaces for biological women – with the issue having sparked angry exchanges on social media.
The issue arose after the Scottish Government put forward plans to legislate on gender recognition reform, which would have eased the process of legally changing gender identity.
The plans, which were scrapped last year after the coronavirus pandemic hit, would have meant trans people could receive a Gender Recognition Certificate through self-declaration after six months, rather than requiring medical evidence and a two-year period of living as that gender under the current rules.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry had been a high-profile critic of the planned reform, but with the debate over trans rights raging within the party, members have been leaving.
Academic Rayya Ghul tweeted that the “SNP’s lukewarm stance on trans rights and apparent unwillingness to stamp out transphobia in its ranks has left me disappointed and at times, disgusted”.
However, the SNP’s lukewarm stance on trans rights and apparent unwillingness to stamp out transphobia in its ranks has left me disappointed and at times, disgusted. 2/4
— Rayya Ghul 🧐 (@RayyaGhul) January 26, 2021
She said she “wouldn’t support a party which allowed open racism” and could “not support one that won’t stand up against transphobia” – adding that as a result she is giving up her membership.
Meanwhile student Stuart Smith tweeted on Wednesday: “This morning I made the hard decision to leave the SNP. I have a lot to say and I’ve already said a lot (totally unlike me ik…). But for now I stand as a firm trans ally.
“I could no longer morally justify staying in a party that has become a breading (sic) ground for bigotry.”