Russia has an abhorrent track record on LGBTQ rights.
While the country technically decriminalized homosexuality after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia took a sharp turn right when President Vladimir Putin's 2013 legislation cracking down on "nontraditional" relationships went into effect. The intentionally vague law bans public demonstrations that aim to expand LGBTQ rights and it prohibits the distribution of LGBTQ-themed material to minors.
In other words, you won't see too many rainbow flags flying around Moscow.
An LGBTQ rights activist gets arrested by Russian police in 2013. Photo by Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images.
But Russia was in the midst of hosting the World Cup. And fans from across the globe flocked there to watch the matches — and some sent a striking political message while they were at it.
Six activists from six different countries trolled Russia with a clever display of rainbow colors.
Wearing the soccer jerseys of their native countries, activists from Spain, Holland, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia strolled around Russia discreetly flaunting LGBTQ pride and snapping pics along the way.
The Spanish activist (red), the Dutch activist (orange), the Brazilian activist (yellow), the Mexican activist (green), the Argentinian activist (blue), and the Colombian activist (purple). All photos by Javer Ties, courtesy of The Hidden Flag.
The project, dubbed The Hidden Flag, was launched by a Spanish organization called La Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gais, Transexuales, y Bisexuales (FELGTB).
The federation devised the The Hidden Flag project with help from creative agency LOLA MullenLowe and production company Primo Content.
FELGTB, whose name translates to the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transexuals, and Bisexuals), claims to be Spain's largest LGBTQ rights organization. So it was only natural that it wanted to send a bold message to Russia and the rest of the world by "infiltrating the rainbow flag and defying the current [Russian] law."
Using the hashtag #TheHiddenFlag, people from around the world cheered on the demonstration.
One particularly viral tweet sharing pics of the effort amassed an incredible 270,000 likes, as of this writing.
The motivation behind the colorful photos, however, paints a dark reality.
Citing a study from the Center for Independent Social Research, FELGTB noted that hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community have doubled since Russia's 2013 anti-gay law went into effect. What's more, Russia has allowed Chechnya — a semi-independent state within its jurisdiction — to enforce a "gay purge" targeting queer men with imprisonment, torture, and even death.
"Becoming visible is a huge risk in Russia," FELGTB President Uge Sangil said in a statement.
"But doing it in front of thousands of fans and reporters during the World Cup and with this smart and original protest is what really motivated us."
"The Hidden Flag gives visibility to ALL of the brave people who face discrimination, silencing, and fear on a daily basis in Russia and other parts of the world were LBGTI people are persecuted, humiliated or marginalized," Sangil continued.
Until every LGBTQ person is treated with respect and dignity — no matter where they happen to live — we have work to do.
Learn more about The Hidden Flag and the activists who brought it to life.