London’s only LGBT arts festival begins today.

GFEST will run for two weeks and features dozens of short films, exhibitions and performances by a range of artists.

It will be held at venues across the capital, including the National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Rich Mix, Hampstead Town Hall and Cochrane Theatre.

Now in its fourth year, it attracted support from author Sarah Waters, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw and deputy mayor of London Richard Barnes. Last month, prime minister David Cameron released a message of support for GFEST.

A parliamentary reception for GFEST was hosted by Labour MP and former culture minister David Lammy last week.

Speaking at the reception, equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said: “I’m very proud of the agenda, the LGBT agenda, that’s come forward from this government tackling homophobic bullying, international issues.

“We often think we have gone a long way with legislation in this country and we have but there are still countries around the world where you can be tortured or killed if you’re homosexual. so we’ve been very proactive on the international front and domestically in this country.

“We like to think [that] – and we have – gone very far in terms of legislation but that doesn’t really deal with hearts and minds and the way people behave.

“Recently, I was very proud to represent the government at the anti-hate crime vigil in Trafalgar Square.. . the roll call of those who have been murdered because of their disability, their race, their sexual orientation or indeed their gender identity, was so awful because it was long and so awful to think that in this day and age, these kind of things still go on.

“I don’t want to darken the mood but there are some really serious issues around sexual orientation and gender identity still and I think GFEST works in a way to reach far beyond those kind of things. It’s about hearts and minds, it’s about artists and it’s about art or theatre or whatever to go out there and reach into people’s hearts.

“Because when people have something in common, they have an identification, an understanding of another human being, rather than just a label. And things can change hugely.”

She added: “I simply wanted to say well done to GFEST and all of the artists who contributed to this fantastic festival and that David [Lammy] and I are hugely proud to come from the borough where it lives.”

PinkNews.co.uk publisher and founder Benjamin Cohen is a trustee of GFEST.

Highlights:

Visual Arts: New Zealander Xavier Radic, who has exhibited in Strasbourg, New York and San Francisco. He is a curator of many art exhibitions in New Zealand and has been invited again to show at the Florence Biennale 2011.

Helen Churchill returns to GFEST after 2008, and has exhibited work at a number of venues and has completed several private commissions for clients in the UK.

London based Matthew Stradling was selected by Sothebys to represent Britain in the Young Artist International Touring Exhibition and was also selected for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition.

Maitree Siriboon has exhibited in Italy, Singapore, Indonesia, Netherlands, Malaysia – and Thailand, where he lives and works as artist and curator for Whitespace Gallery .

Short Films: Protect Me From What I Want by Dominic Leclerc opens with a cruising scene at an underground archway, where Saleem and Daz embark on a dangerous, thrilling sexual adventure.

Kent Thomas’ Broken looks at young hustler who relives his dark journey from an upper-middle class home to living and working on the street.

A timely documentary from Michael Urwin, gay couples discuss love, marriage, religion and spirituality, heroes and hopes for the future generation in Mosaic: Love and Marriage.

Kiss Boxing by Corinne Bott: game in which the opponent is being knocked out – by a kiss.

Moby Longinotto’s platinum blonde Jheri Jones lives on a remote trailer park in Mississippi. But unbeknown to her neighbours Jheri has a secret in The Joneses.

Performances: Artistic director of Homo Promos and acclaimed performer, director Peter Scott-Prestland will present a semi-autobiographical cabaret show of original witty sketches, songs, savage political satire, and personal revelations from 1973 to the present.

An accomplished performer and a regular on BBC Radio 7, Lorraine Bowen, will be playing her Casio organ on its ironing board stand, dancing to hits from her albums, entertaining with
hilarious surreal stories.

A Peggy Ramsay Foundation award winner, hugely talented Marcus Reeves will present a delightfully witty collection of songs and poetry from a decade long performance career.

A prolific performer at festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe, Glastonbury Festival and Sydney Mardi Gras, Rosie Wilby reflects musically on her days trying to make it in the music business at the height of Britpop.

GFEST (08/09) performer Guy Harris presents ‘A homage and personal interpretation’ of glam rock star Jobriath’s most moving, witty songs.

Listed in the 30 most influential LGBTQ people in Chicago by Windy City Times, International performer Nikki Patin presents a solo show blending music, spoken word and burlesque.