A leading transgender equality charity has warned of “rising transphobia in the British media” which it says could have a damaging impact on the mental health of transgender people.

The warning by the Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA) comes after what it describes as “a sustained campaign against transsexual women” in some parts of the media over the past few weeks culminating in a highly-offensive article by Julie Burchill published in Sunday’s Observer.

She described members of the transgender community as “a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs” and “dicks in chicks’ clothing”.

Burchill went on to suggest that transgender women aren’t real women by comparing them to “Black and White Minstrels” and making offensive comments about their anatomy.

In response, the Scottish Transgender Alliance said that “such offensive language would not be deemed fit to publish if it attacked people on the basis of their race or sexual orientation rather than their gender identity”.

Nathan Gale, development worker for the Scottish Transgender Alliance, called on the Observer to issue a full apology:

“Having your identity ridiculed in such an offensive way in a respected national newspaper is extremely damaging for trans people. Many trans women live in constant fear that they will be harassed or abused just walking down the street.

“Such comments being legitimised by the media make that fear all the more real. Like many we are shocked that such a transphobic article was allowed to be published in the first place, and it seems unlikely that such derogatory language would have been printed in the Observer had it been in relation to another minority group.”

Gale added: “The Scottish Transgender Alliance will continue to work to improve the positive visibility of trans people. In the meantime we hope that the person responsible for allowing Burchill’s article to be published is held to account and a full public apology issued.”

A petition on the Care2 petition site demanding an apology from the Guardian News Group, which owns the Observer, has already gained over 3,625 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Guardian News Group have asked their readers’ editor to “investigate the matter”.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, now an International Development Minister, but previously the Minister for Equalities, described Julie Burchill’s “rant” as “disgusting” and called for her to be sacked – along with the Observer’s editor.