We know how hard life is for LGBT+ people who live in Russia, but there are also many legitimate concerns for tourists, never more so with so many visitors travelling to the country for the 2018 World Cup.
The spreading of LGBT+ "propaganda", including the Pride flag, among people under 18 is banned in the country under a controversial 2013 law, which the European Court of Human Rights last year ruled was discriminatory and encouraged homophobia. Homophobic prejudice also remains rife in the country, despite homosexuality having been decriminalised in 1993.
But one group of activists managed to subvert the law in a particularly canny way. Six campaigners – from Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia – took advantage of the current furore around the World Cup to hide the rainbow flag, a symbol of LGBT+ identity and solidarity, in plain sight in the Russian capital.
Their nations' football tops collectively made up the Pride symbol – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet – and the project is going by the name 'Hidden Flag'. The aim, the activists told Refinery29, is to "give visibility to all the people who live in Russia and face discrimination and fear on a daily basis".
One group member, who preferred not to be named, said they wanted to raise awareness of and incite conversation about broader discrimination against the LGBT+ community around the world, where people are "persecuted, humiliated or marginalised" because of their sexuality and/or gender identity.
"We realised that this year while Gay Pride Week was happening [in Spain], the World Cup was happening at the same time in a country as restrictive as Russia, making it the perfect time to create this initiative. Together with FELGTB (Spain’s largest LBGTQ organisation) we hoped to call attention to the discriminatory laws in Russia and press for change," the spokesperson said.
"The World Cup felt like the right place because the whole world is watching which helps to reach more people, spread the message and keep the protesters safe."
The reaction to the initiative has been "overwhelmingly positive" – even Chelsea Clinton has tweeted about it. Photos of the group have been widely circulated online and have been shared by LGBT+ groups, activists and members of the public, with 'Hidden Flag' receiving praise for their creativity and resourcefulness.
6 activists have found a creative way to bring the 🏳️🌈 to Russia during the #WorldCup to support LGBTI people and activists. Take a look at the @FELGTB #hiddenflag campaign here ➡️ https://t.co/dtfD3WCjm4 #supportallcolours pic.twitter.com/Vvfg5m3Saw— LGBTI Intergroup (@LGBTIintergroup) July 9, 2018
In Russia it’s illegal to display the LGBT pride flag. So during the #WorldCup these 6 football fans have formed a hidden rainbow flag with their soccer jerseys, to protest Russia’s discriminatory laws in plain sight. #HiddenFlag ✊🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/I6uvYztGlR— Jason Ball (@jasonballau) July 9, 2018
Love what these these brave #activists did in #Russia at the #WorldCup— Omar Kuddus (@OmarKuddus) July 8, 2018
Wearing shirts of their native teams, they turned themselves into a #LGBTQ #rainbow #flag
(displaying the LGBT flag in public can get you arrested) & walked around moscow with pride 🏳️🌈 #TheHiddenFlag pic.twitter.com/lKt3C5I65y
in russia, the act of displaying the LGBT flag in public can get you arrested. so these 6 activists from latin america resorted to creativity: wearing uniforms from their countries' football teams, they turned themselves into the flag and walked around moscow with pride. 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/7Q2HgLemzh— gabi (@harleivy) July 8, 2018