Leading Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs took part in a special Pride London event at the National Portrait Gallery last night.
Fundamentalist Christians picketed the event and were met with a counter-demo by Amnesty International.
A lecture hall at the gallery was packed to capacity for the ‘town hall meeting’ organised by Jake, a social network community for gay men.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights organisation Stonewall, chaired proceedings.
Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw and Foreign Office minister Chris Byrant spoke on behalf of Labour. They set out the government’s achievements on gay rights over the past 12 years.
Mr Bradshaw attacked the voting record of Tory leader David Cameron and the party’s formation of a new group in the European Parliament. He said the Conservatives would dump the campaign against homophobic bullying in schools if elected and claimed there is still a strong streak of homophobia in the party.
Mr Bryant said it was in the interests of everyone to vote Labour at the next election and he said the Equality Bill currently before Parliament is yet another example of his party’s committment to gay rights.
He said that under Labour the Foreign Office has taken the lead promoting gay rights abroad.
Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert and prospective parliamentary candidate Nick Boles spoke for the Tory party. Mr Herbert claimed the Conservatives have changed and “I am exhibit A.” He said he was chosen for the safe seat of Arundel and South Downs with his partner present, proof that the grassroots of the party have shifted attitudes.
Mr Herbert said party leader had taken a “courageous” stand and apologised for Section 28 and admitted the Tories had made mistakes in their attitudes to gay rights. He congratuled the Labour government’s record on the issue under Tony Blair.
Mr Boles said the Conservatives had “made it impossible for gay people to vote for them” in the past, and some may have lingering suspicions. He said it was wrong that this government is “piling on debt” that will have to be paid back by future generations.
Lib Dem frontbench spokesman Stephen Williams said that his party, in a “special act of bravery,” had called for equality for gay people as far back as the 1979 election.
He cited his party’s “ahead of the curve” policies on climate change, civil liberties and the economy as reasons for gay people to vote Lib Dem.
Mr Williams also praised Labour for “12 years fundamental change” in the rights of homosexuals and highlighted his own work on homophobic bullying in schools.
After the debate, guests were joined by Sarah Brown, wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for a viewing of the Gay Icons exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
Mr Bradshaw, the first Cabinet minister in a civil partnership, told PinkNews.co.uk that he had enjoyed the debate.
“Gay people must not be complacent about our rights, they are not irreversible.” He praised John Bercow, the new Speaker of the House of Commons, and claimed he was hated by Tory MPs because he was an early supporter of gay rights.
At the event Jake produced the results of a poll of 600 of its members. It found that 44.8 per cent think Labour is the most gay-friendly party, 44 per cent said Lib Dems and 5.7 per cent said Tories.
Tony Grew is editor of ispystrangers.org, a new website that reports on proceedings in Parliament.