A council has been accused of “institutionalised bigotry” after using a picture of a person removing a wig to depict transgender people.
The image was published in an “easy read” online version of an Essex County Council consultation document on library cuts, but has now been removed.
Equality campaigner Zoe O’Connell said the mistake was “indicative of a wider problem”.
A spokeswoman for the council apologised “for any offence caused”.
The image was provided by a company that specialises in producing easy read versions of documents for the government and NHS England, according to the council.
The questionnaire asks participants about their gender, with boxes for male and female.
A third box, labelled transgender, has an image of a man removing a long wig.
The picture was circulated on Twitter on Wednesday, with The Save Our Libraries Essex campaign describing it as “looking like institutionalised bigotry”.
One Twitter user described it as a “gross misrepresentation with zero bearing on any transgender person”.
Another said: “The depiction is not only awful but ‘man, woman or transgender’ is an extremely ignorant choice of genders.”
Ms O’Connell, who ran for the parliamentary seat of Maldon in 2015 and 2017 for the Liberal Democrats, said: “I’m trans myself and we all know the problems with funding cuts facing councils but they view expertise in these areas as somehow optional.
“These are the basics and they need to be right.
“It feels to me like Essex County Council is not as safe as it should be, because their own consultations are portraying a negative gender stereotype,” she added.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “This image was specifically chosen to help communicate with people with learning disabilities.
“It was supplied by an organisation called Inspired Services, who work with people with learning disabilities to produce images for the Government and NHS England for easy read publications.
“We are sorry for any offence caused.”