By Angelos Anastasiou
Hundreds of people flocked to the 2nd annual Gay Pride parade in down-town Nicosia on Saturday, with prominent members of local leadership expressing their solidarity with the marchers’ cause.
People in support of the gay pride movement started gathering at the municipal gardens in Nicosia early in the afternoon in anticipation of the big march that was scheduled for 5pm.
Resembling a big party, the venue soon bristled with colourful signs and packs of marchers bearing signs and singing along to tunes like Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.
Before the march, the crowd was addressed by various representatives of the government, political parties, and other social organisations.
Representing the government, Interior minister Sokratis Hasikos was welcomed with generous applause, presumably due to his pioneering stance on promoting and getting legislation on civil partnerships – long a demand of the gay community – approved by the cabinet.
“I am here in my official capacity as Interior minister, but also as a representative of the government,” Hasikos said.
“I personally, as well as the executive branch of government, have listened closely and fully understood the issue you have repeatedly raised with successive Cypriot governments, and responded positively,” he added to loud cheering.
Various other stakeholders took the stage to address the crowd, including Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou and Childrens’ Rights Commissioner Leda Koursoumba, but the marchers buzzed with joy when Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis stepped up to the microphone.
“We have made a choice to be democrats,” he declared.
“Here, today, we claim the right to be free. We claim the right to be ourselves.”
As with last year’s inaugural march, the 2nd Gay Pride parade was held under the auspices of the Nicosia Municipality, and this active embrace earned Yiorkadjis the crowd’s appreciation.
Another notable impromptu – if short – speech was made by the head of the European Parliament’s Cyprus office Alexandra Attalides, who declared victory.
“Here is Cyprus that can, here is Cyprus that demands rights and equality for all,” she told a cheering crowd.
“We have won!”
DISY leader Averof Neophytou was an interesting entry on the roster of speakers, if only because one of his party’s deputies – Limassol’s Andreas Themistocleous – spoke out against the march this week, and was widely criticised for sexist remarks made against AKEL’s Irene Charalambidou, a darling of the LGBT community, to which DISY could only muster a tepid response.
But Neophytou kept it short and low-key, and only a few isolated grumblings were heard from the crowd.
“Any society’s struggle towards modernity and eradicating all forms of prejudice is not self-evident, nor is it an easy task,” he said.
“It is everyone’s duty, and that is why we are here today. Not just walking together.”
But Charalambidou herself could not miss the opportunity to bring the Themistocleous incident back – front and centre – and she did so with rock-star gusto.
“Homosexuality is not a disease, nor a sin – homophobia is,” she exclaimed.
“Sexist comments are!”
The crowd picked up on her reference and cheered loudly.
A slightly comical address was delivered by the Animal Party’s leader Kyriacos Kyriacou, who tried to draw an unfortunate parallel between animals and the gay movement.
“The Animal Party has all the more reason to be heard because we are fighting for animal rights, which are supposedly self-evident,” he started, prompting some puzzled looks within the crowd.
“That is why we stand in the same trench and support the rights of people.”
But the fieriest speech was given by the vice-president of the Movement for a Federal Cyprus, Yiorgos Pittas.
“It was an interesting week,” he started, reinvoking the Themistocleous incident.
“We are here to help pry open the windows and doors of Cyprus so that everyone can be free to choose their sexual identity. Be yourself! It’s the only way to be!”
“It won’t be easy. We see that the carriers of darkness, the eunuchs of thought, react, shout obscenities, and curse. But that’s OK. It’s their problem. We are here to tell them that in the society we dream of, there is a place for them, too.”
After the opening statements a parade was held through the streets of old Nicosia before the party in the park continued into the night.