Rights activist Peter Tatchell is under fire for signing an open letter condemning the “silencing of individuals” who make controversial comments about trans people.

Mr Tatchell has been besieged with complaints after he put his name to a letter in the Guardian – which unbeknownst to him was also co-signed by a number of activists who actively campaign against trans women’s rights.

The letter cited several incidents – including a protest outside a talk by Germaine Greer, who believes that trans women should not be recognised as women, criticism of Green candidate Rupert Reed, who was condemned by his party leader over comments about trans women, and the NUS ‘no platforming’ author Julie Bindel – who has previously attacked a “trans cabal”.

It says in part: “You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic.

“Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying.

“We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.”

The campaigner says he signed the letter on free speech grounds, and insists he supports trans rights.

Mr Tatchell told PinkNews: “A colleague estimates that I received well over 2,000 attacks in the first 24 hours after The Guardian letter was published; nearly all of them misrepresenting the letter and my record of solidarity with the trans community.

“Many of the responses are abusive. Some are threatening.

“I have a 40 year record of supporting trans people and rights, starting in the early 1970s when many people did not.

“I am now told that my support for the trans community is not wanted. These critics claim to represent the trans community but I doubt they do.

“They say my signature on the Guardian letter is collusion with ideas that lead to the hatred and murder of trans people.

“But the letter did not attack trans people or trans rights. It defended free speech and opposed witch-hunts. I strongly disagree with feminists who denigrate trans people and have said so publicly many times.

“But I think the best way to respond to anti-trans views is to debate and expose them. That’s why I oppose no-platforming, bans and censorship – except if a person resorts to threats, harassment or violence.

“I was not aware of the other signatories when I signed. Yet I am being condemned via the McCarthyite tactic of guilt by association.”

He added: “A crucial sentence in the letter was cut, for space reasons, without my knowledge or agreement. It read: ‘Some of us have disagreements with the views expressed’ (by feminist critics of trans people). I am annoyed about that.”

Trans activist Sarah Brown blogged of the letter: “Those who signed and have a history of transphobia and whorephobia know what they’re doing and are being deeply cynical here.

“To those who signed it because they were told it was about ‘freedom of speech’ and didn’t research the context, I merely ask to please try to be a bit less credulous in future.”