A UK gay arts festival has been forced to cancel a two-year project in St Petersburg for fear of arrest under the Russian city's new homophobic laws.
Liverpool's Homotopia was due to show an exhibition chronicling the emergence of the gay rights movement in the UK and Europe, but organizers have pulled the program after being warned by British officials that they could be arrested or fined as a result.
St Petersburg has been condemned by world leaders and human rights activists after it passed an anti-gay 'propaganda' law which effectively gags any public discussion of LGBT issues or events targeted at gay and trans people, including pride.
Artistic director Gary Everett was due to fly out later this month with a colleague.
'The British Embassy and British Consulate were really monitoring what was happening and the advice was that if we go we would be open to arrest and could end up being put in prison because we are an overtly gay festival,’ Everett told Gay Star News.
He added: ‘I’ve never encountered these obstacles before but it’s more insidious than that. It’s more severe in terms of the law’s enforcement. They will arrest people. They’ve already arrested Russian activists so what would stop them from doing that to someone from our country?’
Art as Social Change was launched following a hugely successful exhibition of Tom of Finland in the gay artist’s home city of Turku.
Part of the legacy of Homotopia’s time in the Finnish city was the creation of three projects, including a show on human rights in Turku’s twin city St Petersburg.
‘What is sad is that St Petersburg is one of the most progressive cities in terms of art and culture,’ Everett added.
‘It’s a very exciting place in terms of art, music, fashion and creativity but they don’t want to have a gay and lesbian element to that. They seem to want to just wipe it out.
‘It’s similar to Berlin in the 1930s and it’s very scary that these ideas are somehow being pushed through.’
Homotopia’s annual Liverpool festival takes place from 30 October to 25 November.