Transphobia should be treated with “zero tolerance” and tackled in the same way as racism or homophobia, Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The SNP leader said “silence was not an option” in a message addressing reports that a “significant” number of young people had left the party due its stance on the issue.
It comes amid a deepening row within the party over “differences of opinion” on gender recognition.
In a video message posted to Twitter on Tuesday night, Ms Sturgeon said she would “do everything” she could to persuade young people that the SNP “is your party”.
She said: “I know many of you personally, I consider you friends, I have campaigned alongside you.
“You are a credit to our party, and our country. It grieves me deeply you have reached this decision, after much soul-searching, because you consider the SNP to be, at this stage, not a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people.”
In a speech she claimed was unscripted, the first minister added: “That’s not acceptable to me as SNP leader, and 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.”
Tensions have also been building in the SNP over proposed amendments to the Scottish government’s Hate Crime Bill. Critics say the changes fail to protect transgender people.
Earlier this month, a prominent equalities campaigner quit the SNP and called for an independent inquiry into alleged transphobia within the party.
Teddy Hope, a former transgender officer for the official LGBT wing of the SNP, Out for Indy, claimed the party has become a “core hub for transphobia” in Scotland and said the SNP has turned its back on the transgender community.