Organizers behind Cyprus' first Gay Pride Parade said Saturday that participation exceeded their expectations.

Costas Gavrielides, president of ACCEPT-LGBT Cyprus, said he had expected a few hundred people to join the event. Instead, several thousands of people turned out to help inaugurate what is hoped to be an annual celebration.

“This proves that Cypriot society has progressed much more than politicians say,” Gavrielides told the AP.

“It's the first time that we witness this in Cyprus. And I believe it's of great importance for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, whatever background,” Rafaela, a supporter of gay rights, told the AFP.

According to the AP, police restrained a small group of protesters who attempted to break though police barriers and approach the parade.

In a statement, the Cyprus Orthodox Christian church condemned the parade, saying it believes being gay is “an illness and not a natural way of life or choice.”