Senior members of the Liberal Democrats talked about their commitment to ensuring the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

At a fringe meeting at the party’s annual conference, organised by gay equality organisation Stonewall, the Lib Dem’s chief executive Lord Rennard praised Brian Paddick’s campaign for Mayor of London.

He said that “for many years” both Labour and Conservative governments allowed discrimination to continue.

“The first leadership election that I remember – in what was the Liberal party – was the contest between David Steel and John Pardoe in 1976,” he told an audience of more than 70 party activists.

“Both pledged unequivocal support for a proposed bill put forward by the then Campaign for Homosexual Reform.”

Lord Rennard said the Liberal Democrat constitution rejects prejudice and discrimination of all types.

Baroness Sarah Ludford reported on her work in the European Parliament.

She welcomed a new law in the US which removed the de facto ban on HIV+ people travelling there, which she had campaigned for.

She branded some EU nations as “extremely primitive when it comes to gay rights” and welcomed the proposed new discrimination directive which will ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in goods and services.

Baroness Ludford said the ideal of an EU of free movement and equal treatment was being undermined by the refusal of some member states to recognise UK civil partnerships.

The issue falls under family law, which the EU has no competence over.

Lynne Featherstone MP, the Lib Dem equalities spokesperson, said that schools are the “last bastion of homophobia” and changing attitudes must start in the playground.

She attacked the press over their role in the downfall of former BP boss, Lord Browne, who stepped down last year after it transpired he had lied in court about where he met his partner.

“Sexuality seems to be newsworthy,”she said.

Ms Featherstone also floated the idea of stronger laws to punish people or businesses that flout anti-discrimination laws, with a sliding scale of punishments for those who repeatedly do so.

“Slaps over the wrist have no effect,” she said.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said that Brian Paddick’s candidacy in May’s London Mayoral contest was “a hugely significant moment.”

He thanked the Lib Dems for their support in the Lords and singled out Lord Carlisle’s deeply moving speech to the House earlier this year during the debate on equal access to fertilisation services.

Activists had a chance to question the panel on a range of issues, among them the threat to gay rights from evangelical Christians, hate crimes in Liverpool and the media’s attitude to gays.

The idea of a privacy law was backed by Lord Rennard, while Ms Featherstone mooted a clause in the new Equality Bill, which will be introduced in the next parliamentary session, to combat “extreme” homophobia in the press.

The ban on men who have sex with men donating blood was discussed and Mr Summerskill said that Stonewall has been in talks with the health authorities in England and Wales over the issue.

Iain Smith MSP pointed out that the Scottish parliament is also considering the effectiveness of the ban.