A gay and lesbian film festival which was supposed to open in St Petersburg yesterday has been thrown into disarray after city fire inspectors ruled the venues were not suitable.

The ‘Bok o Bok’ (Side by Side) festival has attracted homophobic comments from leading intellectuals in the country.

The state Cinema House and in the private cinema PIK both agreed to screen films and then withdrew.

Organisers were going to show films in two nightclubs, but they have been ruled unacceptable venues by the fire authorities.

The entire festival, which was supposed to run until Sunday, is now unlikely to go ahead.

Russian gay activist Nicolas Alexeyev said:

“Russian authorities continue their policy of homophobia and arbitrary unlawful actions by preventing events organized behind closed doors in private places.

“From the very first day I supported the conduct of this film festival in Saint Petersburg but already in February I expressed my fears that the authorities will stop the event on technical reasons at the very last minute.

“The only major LGBT event that could be organised over the last years in Russia are the May 2006 and May 2007 LGBT conference that where held during the Moscow Pride Festival at the Moscow Swissotel.

“And still, it is only because we booked conference rooms in a local five star hotel belonging to foreign interests that authorities were not able to play the same game with us.”

Conservatives within the country’s artistic community had called for the film festival to be banned.

The State Artist of Russia Nikolai Burlyaev publicly called gay people “perverts” and homosexuality a “sin” and an “illness” and demanded St Petersburg authorities stop the event.