The sculptures – crafted by Angel of the North creator Antony Gormley – have been pasted with phallus-shaped stickers bearing the message “women don’t have penises”, by members of Liverpool ReSisters.
In a statement, the group said the stunt on Crosby Beach was “aimed at raising awareness of the potential threat to sex-based rights and women’s rights” posed by proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
Depending on the outcome of a government consultation, the act may allow transgender people to achieve legal recognition without a medical diagnosis.
Several European countries, including Ireland and Portugal, already allow transgender people to legally self-identify.
Liverpool ReSisters claims changing the law in the UK would leave women vulnerable to violence due to a lack of female-only spaces, adding that it would “open the doors for any and all male-bodied individuals to access female-only spaces just on his word alone”.
Twelve local trans rights groups – including Big Love Sista and Liverpool Queer Collective – have condemned their stance and the sticker campaign, labelling it as transphobic.
In a joint response posted on Instagram, the groups say “there is no room for hate against trans people” in the city, and that they “condemn the behaviour, hate and transphobia of Liverpool ReSisters”.
Their statement has been backed by Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, who said his office would work with police to ensure the stickers were removed and identify those responsible.
He tweeted: “Liverpool takes #PRIDE in its diversity and history of fighting for equality for all, we love all our trans residents and all our LGBT community.”
Other Twitter users have also criticised the sticker stunt, with one describing it as “hate speech” and another saying that it was “nothing more than transphobia”.
Merseyside Police have confirmed enquiries are being made over the campaign, which saw dozens of the 100 iron men statues plastered with offending stickers.
The statues are spread across two miles of the coastline, reaching just over half a mile out to sea.