Wellingtonian of the Year apologises over 'whores' tweet

The 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year has apologised after describing an anti-sex self-identification group as "whores" on Twitter.

Last August, a Government select committee recommended simplifying the process by which Kiwis can change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

It set off a fiery debate, in which prominent New Zealand feminists have clashed with transgender activists over the issues of biological sex and self-identification.

Top lawyer Steph Dyhrberg waded into the argument on the side of transgender activists.

"I'm furious. These anti-trans whores do not speak for women. How dare they," she tweeted. "Wish they would take up knitting."

Wellingtonian of the Year apologises over 'whores' tweet
Photo credit: Steph Dyhrberg / Twitter

Screenshots of the tweets were shared by feminist anti-sex self-identification group Speak Up For Women, which calls it a "shocking attack" and says they have laid a complaint against her to the Law Society.

"It is unacceptable for anyone to abuse and intimidate women, but for a senior lawyer who has been given the honour of speaking at the International Women's Day event at Parliament to refer to women participating in democracy as 'whores' is extremely disappointing, and unprofessional," spokesperson Ani O'Brien says.

"The use of slurs and insults, like Ms Dyhrberg's, has a chilling effect.  We need a respectful debate if we are to have laws that balance the rights of everyone."

Wellingtonian of the Year apologises over 'whores' tweet
Photo credit: Steph Dyhrberg / Twitter

In a statement to media, Ms Dyhrberg said her comment about knitting was meant "humorously" and she had "became distracted and forgot" to delete her whore tweet.

"When I opened Twitter later in the day, I apologised and withdrew the word. I deleted the tweet. In a subsequent tweet I acknowledged the word whore was disrespectful to sex workers," she says.

"In response to tweets criticising me, I said I had apologised, not for my views about the issue, but for my intemperate language."

Speak Up For Women has been accused of being part of a movement that excludes the trans community, and Ms Dyhrberg says she does not think the organisation speaks for or represents women.

"Prior to the tweet in question, I had been tweeting my view that trans women are women and defending their rights," she says.

"I was trying to reason with Speak Up For Women and their followers, about why I felt they were not representing women's issues in their opposition to the rights of transgender women to self-identify and live their lives."

Former Green MP and activist Catherine Delahunty has called for anti-trans feminists to stop speaking on behalf of all feminists. Labour MP Kiri Allan has also demanded feminists "stop being transphobic".

Complaints to the Law Society are considered by a standards committee and, if upheld, may result in a reprimand and/or a monetary award.

The Law Society has declined to comment.