By Evie Andreou
THOUSANDS of people participated in the island’s first gay pride parade in Nicosia yesterday in a show of public support marred only by a couple of minor incidents.
As the LGBTI community, joined by other groups and families gathered at Nicosia’s Eleftheria Square around 5pm someone threw a smoke bomb into the crowd.
Also an anti-gay gathering led by clerics held a counter protest near Ochi Square, and in a third incident a man jumped out of nowhere into the parade at Solomou Square attacking a group of men on their way to Eleftheria Square carrying the distinctive rainbow flag.
They managed to stop him however and he was subsequently arrested. None of the incidents managed to derail the festivities.
A little after 5pm the head of ACCEPT-LGBTI, which organised the parade, Costas Gavrielides, addressed the crowd, which was growing by the minute from hundreds to thousands. He thanked everyone who supported the movement and the Festival and for showing their support for LGBTI rights.
Gavrielides also thanked the Turkish Cypriot LGBTI association KUIR Cyprus and assured them of ACCEPT’s support in order to fight the prejudice against ten per cent of the island’s population.
He argued that human rights and EU Conventions could not be cherry-picked but should apply to all and that the LGBTI community in Cyprus is claiming just that – their human rights. “The right to diversity is not negotiable,” he said.
He also said that Cyprus falls behind when it comes to LGBTI legal rights and he asked the political parties to take action and keep their pre-election promises on the relevant legislation regarding the status of LGBTI persons in Cyprus. He said Cypriot society was finally coming of age and that 53 per cent of Cypriots now accept the notion of homosexual couples.
Gavrielides said that he hoped political parties would be their side when the time came for them to hand over their signatures on the relevant laws, which prompted some laughter and applause from the crowd.
Present also were representatives from International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ILGA Europe, the Turkish Cypriot organisation KUIR Cyprus, representatives of the political parties AKEL, DISY, DIKO, EDEK, the Green Party, United Democrats and Drasy-Eylem, among them former president Giorgos Vassiliou.
“ILGA Euope is extremely happy to be here today, it is a historic day for the LGBT movement in Cyprus, it is actually the success of the community here to have this made happened and we hope that this is just the beginning of much more progress in terms of recognition and acceptance,” said Executive director of ILGA Europe Evelyn Paradis.
Mingling in the crowd and holding the pride flag was Cyprus’ first gay activist Alecos Modinos who battled for years to have homosexuality decriminalised. “I am thrilled and I am certain that things will change, they already have. I hope our politicians will dare as they should and that the state will make the right moves for equality and social tolerance,” he said.
“Things are changing slowly through education and struggle. We all are different and everyone is equal regardless of race, gender and sexual preference,” said Nicolas Petrou, a US resident who travelled to Cyprus especially.
“I feel very proud and I came from Greece just for the parade. I am very happy that Cyprus’ LGBTI community has managed to orchestrate this event,” said another participant who gave his name as Nireas.
Cypriots also gathered to show their support and to prove their tolerance and acceptance.
“The presence of all these people here signifies that things have changed a lot. I hope our society becomes more tolerant and more liberal,” said Christodoulos Kallinos.
“Everyone should support equality. This is the first Cyprus Pride Parade and we need to show our support. It is very positive that there are here many straight people supporting the cause” said Christina Serof.
Participants expressed satisfaction with the turnout.
“I feel very liberated. It’s amazing to see the colours, the love, so many people to support this cause; and it’s not just about LGBT only, it also has to do with diversity, about any other people who are different. It is a positive fact that there has been so much discussion of the Pride Parade in Cyprus and abroad because the more you talk about it, the more chance we have for a change” said Fatima Islam
“I feel very proud for all my compatriots who managed to be here today, I know it took a lot of courage for some to be here and I hope that next year more people will have the courage to show up. I hope it will be understood what kind of march this is and for what reason is happening,” said Xenia Georgiou
The crowd went delirious when the popular Cypriot singer Anna Vissi addressed them.
Vissi said that she came to the event with a lot of love and to consciously support the island’s first Pride Parade.
She said she has learned to respect people for their value, kindness, honesty, dignity and not how they chose to love and be loved and that everyone has in common their equal rights in love, in everyday life.
“Don’t hate what you don’t understand,” she said quoting John Lennon.
After Vissi’s speech, Gavrielides declared the commencement of the Parade which would lead to up the Parliament. After the march, a party followed at the Nicosia Municipal Garden from where Madonna, the Beach Boys and other popular music could be heard blaring over the city centre. There were DJ sets by Cotsios o Pikatillis of the Afro-Banana Republic crew followed by a spectacular, full-blown show by international artist A Man To Pet.
The parade was highlight of the first Cyprus Pride Festival’s two-week celebrations organised by ACCEPT-LGBT Cyprus which aimed at the promotion of equal rights for everyone, and the increase in visibility of LGBT people as full members of society.
To celebrate, the US Embassy also flew the rainbow flag yesterday and several staff members from the embassy participated in the parade.
The festival held under the auspices of Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis.
During the festival there were film screenings, discussions, book readings, a theatre play, a human library and art events.
The parade took place 16 years after homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Cyprus.