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Human Rights Campaign and WPP raise the LGBTQ+ ‘Reality Flag’


By Webb Wright | Reporter

February 23, 2022 | 5 min read

LGBTQ+ Americans face several forms of systemic discrimination in many parts of the country – 29 states, to be exact. The new Equality Act could potentially change that. In an effort to raise awareness about the Act, the Human Rights Campaign and WPP Unite have launched a new ad campaign that highlights the stark realities faced by millions of LGBTQ+ Americans.


The ‘Reality Flag’ is a 21-star American flag to demonstrate the 29 US states where basic LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms are missing

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – three rights that, at least in theory, are inalienable to all Americans. But we all know that the reality is much more complicated. Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) launches a new campaign aimed at drawing attention to the injustices and inequalities faced by LGBTQ+ Americans.

The campaign also draws attention to the Equality Act – a potentially transformative piece of legislation that promises to end systemic discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans. Produced in collaboration with WPP, the new ads revolve around the symbol of the ‘Reality Flag,’ an American flag containing only 21 stars, illustrating the 29 US states “where basic rights and freedoms in housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally-funded programs and jury service are missing for LGBTQ+ people.” This is a striking image, containing a message that will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many Americans.

Advocates of the Equality Act hope to break down those discriminatory barriers. Introduced to the US Congress in February of last year, the Act makes the case that “ongoing discrimination against LGBTQ people, as well as women, in accessing public accommodations contributes to negative social and economic outcomes, and in the case of public accommodations operated by State and local governments, abridges individuals’ constitutional rights.” The Act is currently being weighed as a possible amendment to the US Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” according to the US Department of Labor.

The project began in June of last year, when representatives from WPP Unite – the agency’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group – met with the HRC to brainstorm ideas for how the two groups could collaboratively aid the American LGBTQ+ community in its ongoing struggle for equality. It was determined that the most practical approach would be to educate the American public about the stark realities that LGBTQ+ people face in large swathes of the country. Education was key since – according to WPP – “60% of Americans falsely believe that the rights protected by the Equality Act were already guaranteed.” Hence the ‘Reality Flag,’ a politically and emotionally powerful symbolic representation of systemic discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans.

“When we launched WPP Unite in North America we wanted to find an opportunity right away to make an impact, so we immediately reached out to HRC to ask how we could help in the fight for fairness,” says Brian Ellner, executive sponsor of WPP Unite North America. “HRC wanted a bold creative campaign to help get the Equality Act back in the political conversation and to educate the public on the continued lack of equality for LGBTQ+ Americans living in 29 states. We weren’t shying away from this one – Reality Flag is the perfect example of how WPP uses its creativity and its scale as a force for good.”

The campaign includes a series of video spots featuring LGBTQ+ Americans holding the ‘Reality Flag.’ Text appears, identifying their names and the forms of discrimination that they’ve faced. In one 15-second spot, for example, a woman named Queen is standing in front of her North Carolina home, holding the outstretched and modified American flag in front of her. “Denied housing for being transgender,” the accompanying text says. The background music is slow and somber: someone humming the final notes of the US national anthem.

Though the image of the ‘Reality Flag’ is certainly disconcerting, the campaign emphasizes that it also – like the Equality Act itself – contains a message of hope: “This flag is the LGBTQ+ reality,” says the narrator’s voice in the campaign’s 60-second spot. “But we can change it, because this is America.”

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