Activists Protest Russia's 'Gay Propaganda Law' By Coordinating Rainbow-Colored Jerseys at World Cup

LGBTQ activists of The Hidden Flag group walk in Moscow, with their colored jerseys representing the rainbow Pride flag during the 2018 World Cup. Courtesy of The Hidden Flag

A group of LGBTQ activists found a clever way to protest Russia's "gay propaganda law" at the World Cup in Moscow by separately wearing soccer jerseys for each color of the rainbow and then taking photos together as a group.

Individually, the six international activists—who dubbed their protest The Hidden Flag—look like ordinary soccer fans attending the international sporting event. However, when they line up together in order, a close observer will note the rainbow is clearly visible.

"We have taken advantage of the fact the country is hosting the World Cup at the same time as Pride Month, to denounce their behavior and take the rainbow flag to the streets of Russia," the activists wrote on their website, pointing out that the international competition began in the middle of international LGBTQ Pride month in June.

Six activists got around Russia's law banning 'gay propaganda' by wearing national football shirts that formed an #LGBT #Pride rainbow and taking photos of themselves around Moscow. They called the project The Hidden Flag.

— LGBT+ News (@mondokoosh) July 9, 2018

The activists hailing from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the Netherlands explained that together they formed the rainbow flag—which became a symbol of the global LGBTQ community in 1978—in iconic spots throughout Russia to later post online. In two of the images, oblivious Russian law enforcement officers observe the protest without realizing.

"In the plain light of day, in front of the Russian authorities, Russian society and the whole world, we wave the flag with pride," the group said.

Legislation in Russia, often referred to as the "gay propaganda law," places restraints on portrayals of LGBTQ relationships as equal to heterosexual unions. The LGBTQ community also faces significant social stigma within the country. According to reports, the situation for the LGBTQ community is particularly dire in the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Press and rights groups indicated in 2017 that a large number of gay men had been imprisoned and tortured in the region.

LGBTQ activists of The Hidden Flag group pose in Russia during the 2018 World Cup wearing colored jerseys to secretly represent the Pride flag Courtesy of The Hidden Flag

Russia has drawn significant international criticism for its stance toward the LGBTQ community, increasing in the lead up to and during its hosting of the World Cup. Just prior to the international tournament's commencement, prominent British LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell was detained by authorities as he held a one-man protest in Moscow's Red Square, holding a sign reading: "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people."

Tatchell was later released on bail but was required to appear in court to face charges of violating laws that prohibited all protests near the Kremlin and during the World Cup. Normally, one-man protests are legal in Russia without prior approval, but special laws were implemented in the lead up to ther championship.

Prior to his protest and detention, Tatchell wrote for The Guardian, saying that "LGBT+ people and many other Russians suffer state-sanctioned persecution and far-right violence.

"These abuses need to be challenged. Russia's 2013 anti-gay law against 'homosexual propaganda' has been used to suppress peaceful LGBT+ protests, sack LGBT+ teachers and suppress welfare organizations that support LGBT+ teenagers," he added.

Speaking to The Moscow Times on Tuesday, a spokesperson for The Hidden Flag group explained that the group's protest was meant as "a celebration of diversity and love in a place where celebrating diversity is not easy."

One of the activists, Mateo Fernandez Gomez from Colombia, said on the group's website that he could not imagine being an LGBTQ person living in Russia.

"I hope that this makes it all the way to Putin and that things can be changed," he said.