INADVERTENTLY or otherwise, Monmouth MP David Davies last week prodded into life a large and volatile hornet’s nest, when addressing the issue of transgender rights in his Argus column.

Not for many moons have a little more than 200 words from a politician’s pen – and the reactions of those offended by them – provoked such a swarm of online comments on our website.

Approaching 430 comments have been posted about Mr Davies’ column and a follow-up story featuring responses from members of the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

This appears an ever more hysterical age, driven in no small part by the advent of increasing amounts of online and social media that, while enabling wider debate, inevitably provides platforms for the airing of intolerance and prurience.

The aforementioned comments sadly but unsurprisingly included a hefty amount of such extremity – from both sides of the issue – leavened only occasionally by reasoned argument.

And when it comes to transgender issues, there is an urgent need for reason, irrespective of our views.

Equalities minister Justine Greening last month announced that a consultation will begin during the autumn on reforming the Gender Recognition Act of 2004.

It comes at a time when transgender issues are coming to the fore within and beyond these shores, not least in the USA.

Across the Atlantic, the transgender community has seen legal rights gains made under the Obama administration swept away by Donald Trump, who also threatens to bar its members from serving in the armed forces.

The 2004 Act states that people wanting a legally recognised change of gender in the UK must apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, issued by a judicial panel and which legally determines an individual’s defined gender.

Applicants must provide an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria – a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity that causes a person discomfort or distress – and evidence of having been in transition for at least two years.

Annual applications, according to figures released last year, have risen in recent years in the UK’s 14 gender identity clinics, from single or double figures into the hundreds and on occasion above 1,000.

LGBT charity Stonewall believes the current system is demeaning. Ms Greening indicated that the aim is to make the process quicker, less intrusive, and less medicalised.

Referring to this prospect in his column, Mr Davies predicted: “I suspect it will be impossible to express even the slightest concern about this without being accused of a host of “isms” – but I am going to try.”

Stressing that it is an “absolute given that we should show understanding and compassion towards anyone confused about their gender” – and that discrimination and any form of abuse towards them must not be tolerated – he then asked: “If a man decides to register him/herself as a woman, should he/she have the right to use women’s toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards, etc?”

Acknowledging that some might call him “bigoted”, he then stated: “I would maintain that anyone in possession of male genitalia should be expected to use male facilities regardless of what gender they feel they are.”

He was right about the accusations, though “isms” and “bigoted” were the least of them.

While there was measured anger at his words from members of the LGBT community in our follow-up story, many other commentators were rancorous at best.

The latter is concerning because, whether we like it or not, such questions, such views, will doubtless be aired as part of the Government’s impending consultation – and these will not be confined to who should use which toilet.

We have come a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality 50 years ago, but for many in the LGBT community, there is a good way still to travel.

Legally and socially, the consultation will be a gauge of how far, and how fast that remaining journey is likely to be.

Like it or not too, there will more voices than Mr Davies’ asking awkward and uncomfortable questions – and this is where a welcome dose of reason will be required on all sides.

Adam Smith, chairman of Rainbow Newport, which supports the city’s LGBT community, believes there remains much to do in promoting understanding of transgender issues.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said, highlighting the issue of unisex toilets.

“I would just point out that we use unisex toilets in everyday life – in homes, on trains and planes.

“What is the difference? I can’t understand why people are so against them.”

He added that while it is good that people are talking about transgender issues, he deplores many of the comments that have followed the stories.

“There needs to be more awareness of transgender issues, but looking at them fully. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding,” he said.

And he cautioned people to be aware of the language they use in discussing the issue.

“Language is key because it can affect people directly. Stonewall did some research into mental health and found that something like 46 per cent of the transgender community has attempted suicide,” he said.

“This is why we need to be very wary of what is being done and said. We have to be careful.”

Mr Smith said he has not spoken to David Davies on the transgender issue but has invited him to meet members of the community.

This extends to an offer to meet members of LGBT communities from south Wales at Westminster in October, and to debate the issues, but Mr Smith said the MP had indicated on Twitter that he would not.

“We are meeting MPs for Q&A sessions and were hoping Mr Davies would come. The invite is still there and we really hope he does,” said Mr Smith.

“Even a meeting for 10 minutes for an informal chat would be good. It would only benefit himself and the community, and it would not be a slanging match.”

Mr Davies said that in his column he had merely suggested there is an issue requiring discussion, and he had put it in the form of a question.

“I wasn’t entirely focused on bathrooms and I ask anyone to refer back to my original column where I made it very clear that I’m totally opposed to discrimination and abuse of any sort,” he said.

“Secondly I thought there was a question to be asked about whether people who were physically male and have male genitalia should be in areas where women might expect some privacy.

“I also mentioned hospital wards. It was merely a list of things. I could have added sporting facilities.

“I wasn’t making a statement. I was asking the question and saying we need to have a debate.

“What Adam Smith and his entourage have shown is that there is no rational debate to be had, because despite the very reasoned way I put that over and raised that question, what I got was nothing but abuse, and disgraceful abuse from his supporters.

“They’re not open for debate at all. It’s a complete waste of time as far as I’m concerned.

“If they can get that angry over a perfectly reasoned question then they’re not in the mood to listen to rational debate.

“What they need to realise is that there are people with concerns with the direction this is going, and I’m one of them. Most people are not willing to express those concerns in a public place because of the sort of disgraceful abuse you’re subjected to.”

He repeated his unequivocal condemnation of abuse of the LGBT community, and added: “I’ve asked some of them to condemn the abuse that I’ve had.”

He added: “They’ve turned around and said that it was understandable and that you’re whipping up hate crime. I’m not whipping up hate crime.”

“They don’t want a debate, they want to tell us how they see it.”