NICOLA Sturgeon has flatly dismissed criticism of her controversial gender reforms as “not valid” just days after being accused of ignoring women’s concerns.
The First Minister urged people to focus on “real threats” to women’s safety and women’s rights, not moves to help trans people change their gender in the eyes of the law.
However Ms Sturgeon also suggested that, with some SNP ministers uneasy about the change, there could be a free vote at Holyrood on it, rather than a whipped one.
She said: “Gender recognition reform is about changing an existing process to make it less degrading, intrusive and traumatic for one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society.
“We should focus on the real threats to women, not the threats that, while I appreciate that some of these views are very sincerely held, in my view, are not valid.”
The comment comes after Ms Sturgeon this week caused a row by telling a Tory MSP who raised gender reform at Holyrood that he he ought to be ashamed of himself.
The First Minister was branded a “disgrace” after heckling Murdo Fraser in the chamber.
She shouted “Shame on you!” as he spoke in a debate on Wednesday and mentioned a Holyrood protest by hundreds of women with concerns about the “contentious” reforms.
Mr Fraser accused of her ignoring women’s genuine concerns, leading to the hashtag #ShameOnYouSturgeon trending on Twitter.
The Gender Recognition Reform Bill is intended to simplify the process of legally changing one’s gender by bringing in self-identification.
Under the current law, the UK Gender Recognition Act 2004, obtaining a gender recognition certificate requires a medical diagnosis and takes at least two years.
The new Holyrood law would remove the medical element and shorten the time to six months, relying on self-declaration before a notary public or a justice of the peace.
Opponents fear the move will see men who identify as women using single-sex spaces and services, such as refugees, some of whom may abuse the system to prey on women.
The demo outside Holyrood last week, which was called transphobic and bigoted by counter-protesters, also warned the change was part of a wider erosion of women’s rights and the meaning of what it means to be a woman, with gender is prioritised over sex.
The demo booed mention of Ms Sturgeon’s name and the Scottish Green party.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland today as SNP opens its online conference, Ms Sturgeon was asked about the Gender Recognition Reform Bill and if all ministers would have to vote for it given their personal views.
Interviewer Martin Geissler said Ms Forbes had “spoken very proudly of her Christian faith, she signed a letter urging you not to rush into changing the definition of male and female.
“Will she, will Ivan McKee the business minister, will Ash Denham, minister for community safety, have to vote in favour of gender recognition reform, under the ministerial code?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “We take decisions before we get to votes both in a parliamentary group sense and as a government as to whether free votes apply
“There have been decisions taken in the past to allow people free votes.
“That’s not a point we’ve got to yet, but generally the principle is, for ministers, that collective responsibility applies.
“I don’t think anybody could accuse me of rushing into this.
“There’s been two public consultations. We have listened very carefully.
“But you know we had a manifesto commitment to move forward with this.
“Gender recognition reform is about changing an existing process to make it less degrading, intrusive and traumatic for one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society and I think that is a good thing to do.
“It does not change in any way shape or form, legal protections that women have – and that’s something that’s very important to me as a lifelong feminist.
“We shouldn’t forget there are big threats to women’s safety and women’s rights.
“They come from, sexism, misogyny, principally from abusive and predatory men, and we see lawmakers in other parts of the world, Texas, for example, trying to take away the right of women to control their own bodies [with an effective abortion ban].
“So we should focus on the real threats to women, not the threats that, while I appreciate that some of these views are very sincerely held, in my view, are not valid.”
Earlier this week, Mse Forbes told STV: “My hope would be that nobody’s voice is silenced in this debate.” SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC said Ms Forbes was “quite right”.