NICOLA Sturgeon has defended the controversial LGBTI charity Stonewall amid a backlash against it from the UK Government.

The First Minister praised the organisation, which has received £400,000 in Scotttish Government funds since 2017, for its "very good work for people who rely on its services and its support". 

The comments come as Stonewall faces growing criticism over its work on transgender rights, with some of its co-founders claiming it is “extremist” and has “lost its way”.

The UK Ministry of Justice recently revealed it will not renew membership of Stonewall’s workplace diversity scheme, ostensibly on value for money grounds, with other government departments expected to follow. 

Critics claim employers come under pressure to adopt policies that promote transgender rights at the expense of other workers’ right. 

Stonewall’s chief executive Nancy Kelley has also caused a row by arguing gender critical beliefs are akin to anti-semitism and should not be tolerated in the workplace.

An employment appeal tribunal today ruled gender critical beliefs are protected under equality law, and must not be used as the sole basis for someone losing their job.

READ MORE: Maya Forstater wins landmark employment case on gender critical beliefs

Gender critical feminists believe in sex-based rights, and that biological sex, unlike gender, is immutable.

Stonewall co-founder Matthew Parris, a Times columnist, last month said the charity had become “tangeled up in the trans issue” and “cornered into an extremist stance”.

Fellow co-founder Simon Fanshawe said Stonewall had “become single-mindedly focused on particular and by no means universally accepted approach to trans rights”.

However Ms Kelley has said she remains “really comfortable” with the charity's direction.

At FMQs, Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay said recent attacks on Stonewall showed the country was not yet equal for trans people.

She said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Pride [month], but we should always remember that Pride started as a protest.

“We have witnessed attacks on organisations such as Stonewall in recent weeks with some particularly wild and untrue allegations.

“It shows just how far we have to go to make Scotland a truly equal society.  Attacks like these cause great emotional pain and have to stop. Trans people are our friends, colleagues and family and they deserve to be able to express their identity in peace.”

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Ms Mackay, a list MSP for Central Scotland and her party’s health and social care spokesperson, asked Ms Sturgeon if she would “stand with me to support trans people”.

She also said that many trans people faced an “unacceptable” delay for gender identity services, often waiting years for a first appointment.

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I absolutely stand here, full-square behind trans people in the discrimination and stigma and prejudice, they face, and in the ongoing battle for equality for which they have as much an entitlement as anyone else in our society. 

“There are many things we've got to do, not least at reducing waiting times for gender identity services.

“But I think all of us have to also recognise that progress, unfortunately, in our society is rarely all one way. We always have to protect, and continue to win and re-win, the progress we made. 

“I also would wish people a Happy Pride month.

“It did start as a protest and the organization Stonewall, of course, was right at the heart of that and to this day, does very good work for people who rely on its services and its support. 

“We don't have to look too far today, whether it's on LGBTI issues, or around sexism or misogyny or racism, to see that there are many forces wanting to take us backwards.

“I think all of us have a duty to stand up for equality, however difficult that may be on occasion, to make sure that our progress as a country continues to be in the forward direction and that Scotland is a place where everybody feels valued and respected and able to be who they are.

“That's the country I want to not just lead but the country I want to live in as a citizen and I think we've all got work to do to make sure it is reality and not just rhetoric.”