Nicola Sturgeon says she wants people with strong views to “treat each other with respect”, after author JK Rowling criticised her on social media.
The Harry Potter author posted a selfie wearing a T-shirt calling Ms Sturgeon a “destroyer of women’s rights”.
It was in protest against the Scottish government’s proposed gender recognition legislation.
The first minister said Ms Rowling was entitled to express her views, but defended the legislation.
The author tweeted the picture in support of a rally outside the Scottish parliament, held while a committee of MSPs backed the general principles of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.
The proposed new law would make it easier for people to be legally recognised as their preferred gender and broaden the official definition of what it means to be transgender.
Anyone aged 16 or over who has lived in their “acquired gender” for at least three months would be eligible to apply and a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria would no longer be required, removing the need for doctors’ reports.
Critics including Ms Rowling believe the new law would harm the most vulnerable women and undermine the safety of women-only spaces.
Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “People are entitled to express their views in whatever way they think is fit.
“I have always thought that on this issue, where people have very strong views, we should all try to treat each other with respect and that is what I will continue to do.”
The Bill is currently going through the committee process and the legislation will be examined by parliament after the October recess.
The first minister added: “This bill is about reforming an existing process that is degrading and traumatic for trans people, seeking to make it less traumatic for those who want to legally change their gender.
“It doesn’t give any additional rights to trans people nor does it take any rights away from women.
She added: “It is men who attack women and we need to focus on that, not on further stigmatising and discriminating against a tiny group in our society that is already one of the most stigmatised.
“I say this as a passionate life-long feminist, and I have spent much of my life campaigning for women’s rights.
“We don’t have to look very far to see the real threats to women’s rights right now. They come from men who sexually and violently attack women, who try to abuse women in a misogynistic way.
“They come from law makers in parts of the world trying to take away our reproductive rights and access to abortion.
“They come from places in oppressive regimes in places like like Iran where we are seeing women rise up admirably right now.”
She added: “These are the threats to women’s rights, and feminists should focus on them, not on trans women who are not the threat to women’s rights.”
The first minister said that any man who sought to abuse the law on gender recognition for nefarious purposes would be committing a criminal offence under the proposed bill.
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