The creator of the iconic LGBTQ Rainbow Flag that’s become a global symbol for sexual and gender minorities has died.
Gilbert Baker, an artist and activist, passed away in his sleep at the age of 65 on Thursday night in New York City.
The Kansas-born Baker designed the first Rainbow Flag for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade; inspired by the hippy era, as well as the black civil rights movement.
In 2012, he told Britain’s The Independent: “I almost instantly thought of using the rainbow. To me, it was the only thing that could really express our diversity, beauty and our joy. I was astounded nobody had thought of making a rainbow flag before because it seemed like such an obvious symbol for us.”
Thirty volunteers helped Baker hand-dye and stitch the first two flags that he created. The original design had eight stripes, each colour representing a component of the LGBTQ community: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.
The flag debuted at the same Pride celebrations at which Harvey Milk made his famous speech, telling the crowd: “My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.”
Due to difficulties in commercially reproducing hot pink and turquoise at the time, those two colours were later dropped, leaving the six-coloured version of the flag most often used today. It has become a universal symbol for diversity and freedom around the world.
Baker went on to work as a display artist and continued to design flags professionally for the Paramount Flag Company. In 1994, he moved to New York.
That same year, he created the then largest flag; a mile long Rainbow Flag for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, carried by 5000 people. In 2003, the Rainbow Flag’s 25th anniversary, Baker broke his own world record for the largest flag; one that stretched sea to sea from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West.
On Friday, the Mayor of San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee, flew the rainbow flag at half-mast from the balcony of his office in honour of Baker’s life and achievements.
Flying half-mast outside the San Francisco Mayor’s Office on Friday
Lee described the late flag maker as “a trailblazer for LGBT rights, a powerful artist and a true friend to all who knew him”.
The mayor added: “The rainbow flag is more than just a symbol. It is the embodiment of the LGBT community, and it has become a source of solace, comfort and pride for all those who look upon it. Standing side-by-side with Harvey Milk, Gilbert first raised the flag here in San Francisco, but those rainbow colours are now seen around the world.”
Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar winning film Milk tweeted in reaction to Baker’s death: “Rainbows weep. Our world is far less colourful without you, my love. Gilbert Baker gave us the rainbow flag to unite us. Unite again.”
Today, Google lists more than 2,600,000 references to the Rainbow Flag and more than 241,000 catalogued images.
RIP Gilbert Baker. Your work will continue to inspire millions for years and decades to come.