A pornography festival in London this weekend has been forced to relocate after protests.

Faced with the prospect of a picket, organisers of the London porn film festival, which describes itself as “celebrating queer, feminist, radical and experimental porn”, pulled screenings from the Horse Hospital, an arts venue in Bloomsbury. The three-day event will instead be held at a new location disclosed only to ticket holders.

Multiple complaints about the festival were made to Camden council. Local authorities have the power to permit screenings of uncertificated films.

Despite the festival’s progressive intentions, feminist organisations branded it demeaning. Janice Williams, chair of the activist group Object, said the films on show promoted “degradation and oppression”. Rude Jude, one of the festival’s organisers, disagreed. “This is the next step on from the moral panic and the rightwing conservative groups that protested this kind of thing before … Britain likes to think of itself as a place tolerant of queer people, but when queer people assert ourselves, we’re attacked.”

The festival programme includes screenings titled Soft Tender Tuff Bois, described as a “love letter to all genderqueer and transmasculine people”, and The Kinks Are All Right, which takes the theme of “seductive humiliation”.

Rude Jude said the festival was staged as a response to 2014 legislation that extended pornography laws to films streamed over the internet: “It banned so many queer acts. It banned the depiction of female ejaculation, caning, breast play, flogging. These things are part of queer sexuality. The festival was formed as a protest.”

The coordinators of a separate pressure group, Women Against Pornography, said: “Feminist pornography is an oxymoron … feminism is not about individualistic wishes or desires, it is about liberating all women from the oppression of males. This can never be achieved by being tied up in a bed or by telling women that torture will make them free.” Women Against Pornography cited “security reasons” for not wanting to reveal their names.

In a letter to Camden council, Williams singled out a festival strand titled Sex Work Is Work, the online description for which included the hashtag #necrophilia. Williams claimed the festival was to show extreme pornographic images and pornography that is “likely to result in serious injury” to the performers. The hashtag has since been removed from the festival site.

“These are not violent or extreme in the legal definition,” said Rude Jude. “Some of the films show practices that some people aren’t into, but that is very different. No one has even seen these films yet. Obviously there is no necrophilia involved.”

The annual festival began in 2017 and its programme is put together from open submission. The organisers say their original inspiration was pornfilmfestival Berlin, which has been running since 2006. Those showing their work are encouraged to ensure films are fully accessible, with audio description and subtitling. As well as themed screenings, this year organisers are staging an “audio porn” workshop.

Nimue Allen, whose film Fisting Fun is being shown as part of the Brazen Brits strand on Friday, says the festival has proved an inspiration for performers. “Festivals like this are so important to show that there are alternatives to the mainstream porn … Centring people of colour, trans performers, queer sex of all types – and allowing people to see themselves represented on screen – is something that needs to be done so much more often.

“I’m one person making porn from my bedroom, which can feel incredibly isolating without the ability to meet others with similar views at community events like this.”

The debate surrounding sex work has sparked disagreement among feminist groups. Coinciding with International Women’s Day on 8 March this year, groups including the English Collective of Prostitutes staged a demonstration in London’s Leicester Square to protest against laws that they say put them in danger. Strippers from across London went on strike in solidarity the same evening. In 2018, the Women’s Equality party was criticised for opposing the decriminalisation of sex trade.

In a series of Twitter posts, the festival claimed transphobia underlay the attack on the event. Women Against Pornography refute the accusation: “In the letters we sent there was no mention of transgenderism. However, if transgenderism is apparently so closely linked with pornography then that’s not a very good advert for it. As radical feminists we are gender critical, although this didn’t form part of our criticism of the festival.”

The Horse Hospital, which does not receive public money, is known for its grassroots art programming and has hosted the festival since its inception. “We’re in a difficult position here. We’re always up against it with somebody,” said director Roger Burton.

Thanks to The Guardian The progressive newspaper



Update 28/04/2019: Yesterday, we protested outside the venue of the London Porn Film Festival, which was advertised using the hashtag ‘necrophilia’. Their first venue cancelled due to the concerns raised by OBJECT and others. The ‘rape festival’ organisers informed us that OBJECT caused them a net loss of over £2000! Priceless. Let’s keep up the pressure and stop the glorification of violence against women, pornography and prostitution.

Update 26/04/2019: Today we are outside a Stonewall conference in London, protesting lesbian erasure and the idea that lesbianism is just a sexual fetish for men. We OBJECT! Lesbians are women-loving women. Only women can be lesbians! An OBJECT member attended the conference to remind Stonewall that lesbians don’t have penises – read her account here!

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