A group of global activists has devised a colorful, yet stealthy, way to support LGBTQ+ rights during the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Six members of the Spanish advocacy group FELGTB (which loosely translates to the National Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transgender People and Bisexuals) worked together to create the Hidden Flag protest in Moscow.
Each activist wore a colourful soccer jersey from a different country, representing Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.
When members of the group stand side by side, they resemble the rainbow flag, which has come to represent the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. The activists ― who have been identified as Marta Márquez, Eric Houter, Eloi Pierozan Junior, Guillermo León, Vanesa Paola Ferrario, and Mateo Fernández Gómez ― have had their photo snapped at iconic sites around Moscow, and even posed next to a police officer. (View a Spanish-language video of the Hidden Flag protest above.)
The protest is particularly noteworthy given Russia's "gay propaganda" laws. That controversial legislation, enacted in 2013, made it illegal to distribute material that would "promote" homosexuality to minors, and has been used to stop LGBTQ+ Pride parades and detain local activists.
The law came under international scrutiny in 2014 in the wake of concerns over how it would affect athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Lady Gaga, Cher and Madonna have been among the global stars to speak out against the law, which the European Court of Human Rights deemed discriminatory last year.
Hence, the Hidden Flag participants said their demonstration would "take the rainbow flag to the streets of Russia ... in a way that no one would ever suspect", according to USA Today.
"When Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in 1978, he did so to create a symbol and an icon for the LGBT+ community," the group wrote. "Unfortunately, 40 years later, there are still countries in which homosexuality is persecuted, sometimes even by jail sentences, and in which the rainbow flag is forbidden. Russia is one of these countries."
"In the plain light of day, in front of the Russian authorities, Russian society and the whole world, we wave the flag with pride," it added.
Photos of the group have been shared across social media.
On Tuesday, the protest caught the attention of Chelsea Clinton, who called it "courageous & beautiful" on Twitter.
Whether the protest prompts Fifa, the international governing body of soccer, to consider the LGBTQ+ rights stance of a prospective World Cup host country in the future, however, remains to be seen.
Though Fifa officials have always publicly denounced anti-LGBTQ+ language and behaviour at games, the 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar, where homosexuality is a criminal offence that could result in jail time.