Human rights groups stealthily fly rainbow flag in Turkey with brilliant billboard ‘hack’


Six NGOs in Turkey joined forces to “hack” the rainbow by creating a Pride flag out of individual billboards in defiance of the country’s homophobia.

Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation, Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, Support to Life Association and all teamed up to make a bold statement in Istanbul’s Bebek, Izmir and Çeşme districts.

“We are honoured to be together with our different colours,” the groups said in a joint statement. “We are colourful like a rainbow, equal, free and stronger when we support each other.”

Each billboard bears one of the six colours of the Pride flag along with an individual message from the groups, shared on social media with the hashtag “Rainbow hack”.

“All humans are born free and equal in terms of rights,” reads Amnesty International’s billboard. “All together for the earth,” says Greenpeace’s sign, while the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights says: “Don’t turn a blind eye to discrimination.”

While displaying the LGBT+ flag is not technically a criminal act in Turkey, in practise those who dare to raise it are often arrested and charged by authorities.

The issue has seen repeated clashes at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, where several students are currently being tried in court for unfurling LGBT+ flags at a protest in February.

The protest itself was triggered when four other students were detained for “inciting hatred” by creating an art piece showing rainbows at the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam.

It’s led to the rainbow becoming so demonised that the Turkish government has ordered all LGBT+ and rainbow-themed products sold online to be advertised as 18+ with a warning that they risk children’s “mental, psychological and social development”.

This increasingly hostile environment makes campaigning for equality a serious struggle in Turkey, but with there being no restrictions on individual billboards, it seems the NGOs were able to exploit a clever loophole.

“Apart from the rainbow flag, almost everything in colours is banned,” explained Amnesty International campaigns and communication director Tarık Beyhan. “The stairs painted in colours are [re-painted] in grey; the sale of commercial products with the rainbow is attempted to be hindered.

“In such an environment, it is an honour for us to be in cooperation with organisations working in different fields in the face of discrimination and bans.”