By Bejay Browne
AS CYPRUS geared up for its first Gay Pride Parade, the owner of Paphos’ most high profile ‘gay friendly’ bar said that it was time for Cyprus to embrace change.
Twenty one years ago, Famagusta born Panos Charalambous, established ‘Different’ bar in Paphos determined that it would be an inclusive venue. He says he couldn’t think of a more suitable name.
“Originally I ran a fast food place and it became a meeting point for all sorts of people. Everyone felt comfortable there, so I went on to open a bar. I didn’t want it to be a gay bar as such, but somewhere for everyone.”
More than two decades on and the 47-year-old businessman, a likeable larger than life character, can still be found behind his bar every night, welcoming guests with a smile and a philosophical attitude to life.
“Everybody is welcome, as long as they like what I have to give. My attitude, my character, the music we play and decoration. It’s a reflection of me and a huge part of my life,” he said.
Although Charalambous said he wouldn’t change anything about his life if he had the chance to do it all again, he admits that his path has been a hard one.
“Life gave me a hard way but it has come with a lot of richness, different situations and experiences. Cypriots are open to sex as an act but not to their emotions. They don’t reflect on what their spirit, heart and body needs.”
He has always been close to his family and said there were never any ‘big’ discussions about his sexuality. Instead his family let his life take its own course and accept him for who he is.
He believes that for such a small country with a population less than the size of a corner of London, people are generally very accepting.
Charalambous was around twenty when he had his first relationship and says he is currently happily single.
“I have a good life and I receive a lot of love from people on all different levels. I also have a rich life and to see myself in a love situation, it would need to be something that makes me feel proud and gives me happiness – but it doesn’t bother me if I stay on my own.”
He said the Gay Pride Parade was a good idea and he wished it full success though he did not attend, as he is uncomfortable at large gatherings.
“I hope the officials that attend will get into the sprit of it – like they do in Australia. It needs to be like a big party.”
With the push now on for legal acceptance of same sex unions, Charalambous pointed to the financial benefits for government and private business alike.
“Gay people like to spend money and have a good time. Shopping and buying expensive clothes is usual. Cyprus has a substantial income from British couples and others marrying here already, so this will be great for gay people,” he said.
“Cyprus really is the island of love in any situation.”
He added: “It will happen one day, so why not sooner, people will push the situation to happen, so why not now.”
However, although this was the first Gay Pride parade, Charalambous said he didn’t believe attitudes would change overnight.
“Everybody has to work on themselves inside and let it come out, this way I believe that one day the world will change.”