Gay rights activist and creator of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) rainbow flag, Gilbert Baker passed away this week in New York.
Baker hand-sewed the first rainbow flag for San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978. The original flag had eight colors, each one with a specific symbolic meaning; hot pink (sexuality), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), turquoise (magic/art), blue (serenity/harmony), and violet (spirit).
Hot pink and turquoise were phased out of the flag because it was difficult to procure dyes in those colours. The adapted six-coloured flag has become an emblem of LGBT pride and is recognized all over the world.
“Gilbert Baker was a pioneer in the gay rights movement. The rainbow flag he created in 1978 remains the worldwide symbol for gay pride and the LGBT community. Having known Gilbert for several decades, his passion and dedication to the LGBT community and civil rights movement was second to none,” wrote LGBT Network CEO Dr. David Kilmnick.
Baker was born in Kanas in 1951, he spent two years in the US Army in the early seventies and found himself stationed in San Francisco at the beginning of the city’s gay liberation movement. After being honourably discharged, Baker became a vexillographer (flag maker) and a passionate activist. He was often called upon to whip up banners for anti-war or LGBT rights rallies and protests.
He worked as a vexillographer for over 30 years and broke two world records for the largest flag over the course of his career. He broke his first world record in 1994 with a mile-long rainbow flag he crafted for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The flag was carried by 5000 people and displayed in front of a crowd of millions.
In 2003, on the 25th anniversary of the rainbow flag’s debut, Barker broke his own world record for largest flag when he stretched a rainbow flag from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. He later sent sections of that flag to more than a 100 cities all over the world.
Baker was a friend of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay person to become an elected official in the state of California in 1977. Milk is famous for speaking on the role gay visibility plays in de-stigmatizing homosexuality and empowering LGBT youth. Baker credited Milk with inspiring him to create the rainbow flag. Today, the iconic flag is one the most universally recognized symbols of queer visibility action.
“Gilbert’s passing … is a great loss to the LGBT community and all Americans and he will be greatly missed, but leaves us with a symbol of unity and pride that will carry on forever,” Kilmnick wrote.