Authorities in Saint Petersburg, Russia have effectively shut down the first-ever gay film festival there as it was set to open Thursday.

The Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival was scheduled to open on Thursday, but now appears postponed at best after fire department inspectors closed the clubs (The Place and Sochi) where the films were to be screened, festival organizer Irina Sergeeva told

It's believed that authorities also pressured the state-run Cinema House and a private theater to cancel their commitments to host the event, which pushed the event into bars and clubs.

The gay film festival has been controversial in a country where gays and lesbians continue to be marginalized. State Artist of Russia Nikoli Burlyaev had urged authorities to ban the festival, calling gays “perverts” and “ill.”

“Russian authorities continue their policy of homophobia and arbitrary unlawful actions by preventing events organized behind closed doors in private places,” said gay activist Nikolai Alekseev, whose Moscow Gay Pride Festival has been denied by authorities as well.

“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 [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] event that could be organized over the last years in Russia are the May 2006 and May 2007 LGBT conference that were held during the Moscow Pride Festival at the Moscow Swissotel. And still, it is only because we booked conference rooms in a local 5-star hotel belonging to foreign interests that authorities were not able to play the same game with us,” Alekseev said.

Openly gay director/actor John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus), who was scheduled to appear at Sunday's closing ceremonies, feared violence threatened the gay festival. “We're still concerned about skinheads,” Mitchell said before leaving the United States.

Organizers of the gay film festival said it was unlikely the event would take place as planned, but hoped to reschedule at a later date.

On the net: Gay Russia website at