BBC Three comedy Russell Howard’s Good News is under fire from transgender campaigners who say a recent sketch ridicules a “vulnerable minority”.

Trans Media Watch said that the sketch, based on the story of a Thai airline hiring trans women, shows trans people as “objects of ridicule [and] physical disgust.”

The April 1st sketch shows two airline attendants in makeup and women’s clothes showing their male genitals to passengers. One passenger vomits at the sight.

Paris Lees, a spokeswoman for Trans Media Watch, said: “Content like this is the reason why I ditched my TV three years ago. Watching trans people being constantly ridiculed as objects of physical disgust for ‘comedy’ is a uniquely depressing experience. I genuinely fear what effect this can have on the very high proportion of trans people who consider – and in some cases commit – suicide.”

She added: “The BBC is now asking us to swallow the line that this segment was ‘not about’ trans people. As this is a sketch based upon real events and real trans people, Aunty clearly wishes to insult our intelligence too.”

In response to complaints, executive producer Sean Hancock wrote: “It is never our intention to cause offence, so of course it troubles me to hear of cases where we may have done so inadvertently.

“This sketch was not about transgender people per se, and while the BBC and the programme makers sincerely regret any offence we have caused to you, we would like to stress that the comments were not targeted at the transgender community.

“The sketch was about a fictional budget airline and the aim was to poke fun at the age old tradition of men dressing as women for laughs, very much in the vain of Les Dawson and Kenny Everett. We’re sorry if you felt this went too far but we have to credit the audience with the ability to discern that this is what we meant.”

But Ms Lees argued: “Characters presented by the likes of Kenny Everett and Les Dawson would never have been revealed to have male genitals. Furthermore, they were affectionate caricatures, not objects of ridicule or physical disgust.

“It is difficult to imagine the BBC justifying a similar comedy sketch whose subject was another minority group, such as Jewish people or black people.”

The BBC has had to defend itself against accusations of insensitivity and even homophobia in the last two years.

At Christmas, it sought the views of gay execution supporter Stephen Green for a news item about Elton John’s baby son. Last year, the corporation’s website asked whether gay people should “face execution”.