NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Gay rights groups from both sides of the ethnic divide in Cyprus have formalized their cooperation in raising public awareness about gay rights and working toward buttressing those rights through legislation.
Accept-LGBTI Cyprus from the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and Queer Cyprus Association from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north converged Saturday on the U.N. controlled buffer zone cutting across the capital Nicosia to mark their partnership by holding a festival replete with a fire juggler.
The groups hailed the move as a milestone in helping to break down the east Mediterranean island nation's physical divide and complex politics.
Faika Deniz Pasha with Queer Cyprus Association said Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot gay rights groups were naturally bound by common objectives and had worked together in the past. But the country's division would often raise political and administrative obstacles forestalling tighter bonds.
For instance, one such obstacle was the fact that groups on either side would appeal to different political power centers to advance their cause.
"Although in our hearts Cyprus is as one, the realities worked against closer cooperation and we need to make that extra effort," said Pasha.
Pasha said the fact that the unrecognized Turkish Cypriot north is an "international blind spot" makes it that much harder to hold authorities to account especially in enforcing gay rights legislation.
She said Turkish Cypriots are concerned over increasing pressure that authorities in Turkey are bringing to bear on minority groups including the gay community, but resistance to that pressure extending to Cyprus' northern part is still holding.
Accept-LGBTI Cyprus President Monica Panayi said a key focus of the groups' cooperation will be to pool knowledge in order to help in the advancement of gay rights on both sides.
Panayi said legislation that her group is now pushing for adoption aims at enabling people to easily amend their personal documents such as their passport to indicate their gender of preference.
Cyprus has made significant strides in recent years in the promotion of gay rights, but Pasha says there's still a long way to go for LGBT people to gain full acceptance within their families and society in general.