A CONSERVATIVE councillor has suggested that many who want to change their gender are "deeply troubled" and suffering from "other mental health conditions".

Mary Douglas, who represents Salisbury St Francis and Stratford on Wiltshire Council, also said it's a "possibility" that government plans to make it easier to undergo a sex change have been influenced by Education Secretary Justine Greening's sexuality.

Mrs Douglas was speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Listeners reacted angrily on social media, describing her remarks as "incredibly bigoted" "rude" and "unfeeling".

James Chapman, former chief of staff to Brexit Secretary David Davis, wrote on Twitter that Mrs Douglas's comments were "disgraceful".

Ms Greening, who is also Equalities Minister, said at the weekend that transgender people will be able to chose their legal sex more easily as part of planned reforms.

The show's host, Nick Robinson, said Ms Greening had come out as gay last year, and he asked Ms Douglas if she thought the minister's personal experience was having an impact on Government policy.

Mrs Douglas replied: "It's a possibility, but I'm not going to suggest anything I don't know. I don't know Justine personally at all.

"But the bigger issue here is not who is introducing or considering introducing, but the implications of the policy itself."

Mrs Douglas speaks on family, religion and public life for Grassroots Conservatives, which is not affiliated to the party but draws most of its supporters from Conservative members.

Mrs Douglas said: "It should not be easy to do something as massive as change your gender.

"The law is there to protect us, normally from other people but also sometimes from ourselves, and I think many people have really profound concerns about this.

"If somebody thinks they have a mismatch between how they think and the way their body is, the question is which should be changed?

"What's interesting I think is many people who have gender dysphoria also have - not all, but many - have other mental health conditions, like depression or drug addiction or ... they're deeply troubled.

"It has been proven that when they change their gender, that doesn't solve those issues, so there's an underlying issue here."

Mrs Douglas said that while she was not a doctor, she had read medical research which said that wishing to change gender was a mental health issue, adding that that was the medical consensus until very recently "and I don't see that anything has changed".

She added: "It's certainly not intended to be insulting, but if for example you have someone with anorexia who says I am too thin - too fat, sorry - and you look at them and you go 'really you are not', it's not actually respectful or loving to affirm that person in a belief that is false, that doesn't tie up with reality."

Mr Chapman, wrote on Twitter: "Disgraceful stuff on @BBCr4today from Mary Douglas impugning @JustineGreening's motives for overdue reform of gender assignment law.

"Mary Douglas is a member of 'Grassroots Conservatives'. Quelle surprise! Represents nothing of the party I worked for."

Conservative former cabinet minister Maria Miller, now chairwoman of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, said the Tories had been tackling quality issues since they came into government in 2010.

She also told Today: "What Justine Greening has announced with regards to updating the Gender Recognition Act is something that many people, including medics, will welcome, because the current system is woefully out of date and medicalises a system which should be very administrative and very personal."

In a statement, Mrs Douglas said: "I was invited by BBC Today to give a response on behalf of Grassroots conservatives to the government’s intention to consult on making it easier to legally change gender.

"I did so and made two points: that changing one’s gender is a massive step and should not be presented as merely an administrative matter; and if there is a mismatch between body and mind, then it is appropriate to ask which needs to change.

"When invited by the interviewer to attribute motives to Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, I declined, explaining that I did not know her motives and was keen to focus on the policy not the person presenting it.

"Please be assured that I respect every person and intended no offence to anyone.

"It is a sad reflection on public debate that these points should be considered controversial and that the response should be one of condemnation.

"When the public consultation opens in September, these are some of the issues to which the government will need to give careful consideration, and a range of people have expressed their gratitude that these concerns are now being openly discussed."