Gilbert Baker, the designer of the iconic rainbow flag that has become the symbol of the LGBTQ community, has died.
Baker, 65, died in New York City. It isn’t yet clear the cause of his death.
Baker created the rainbow flag for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day celebration in San Francisco. The flag is now an internationally recognized symbol of LGBTQ pride. Its rainbow colors have been incorporated into the logo of the City of West Hollywood, and the rainbow flag flies in the median on Santa Monica Boulevard in the city’s Boystown district. It also inspires the colors of the rainbow crosswalk on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Baker worked as a vexillographer (flag maker) for over 30 years. He was born in Kansas in 1951 and served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972, during which time he was stationed in San Francisco, where the gay liberation movement was taking off.
Baker taught himself to sew and made banners for gay and anti-war protest marches, often at a moments notice, at the behest of his friend Harvey Milk- later elected to office and assassinated Nov 27, 1978.
On June 25, 1978, Harvey Milk, a friend of Baker’s rode under the rainbow flags that Baker made for San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.
“Flags are torn from the soul of the people,” Baker said in an interview in the book “The American Flag, Two Centuries of Conflict and Concord” (Veninga-Zaricor Publications, 2006).
A biography on his website notes that “In 1979 Baker went to work at Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco, at first doing flamboyant window displays which caught the attention of then Mayor Dianne Feinstein who commissioned him to design flags for her first elected inaugural. From there Baker began designing flags as the centerpiece of formal civic and state events creating fantastic displays for the Premier of China, the President of France, the President of Venezuela, the President of the Philippines, the King of Spain, among many others. His work making flags and their protocols interesting and new opened the way for him to design the flags for the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
“While his list of establishment credits is long, Baker never stopped working on the Rainbow flag. A committed gay activist, he became an industrial artist in residence at Paramount Flag Company, who he credits with giving him the education and opportunity to make the Rainbow Flag known and demanded internationally.”
Baker moved to New York City in 1994 and created a mile-long Rainbow Flag for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot 1969. Carried by 5000 people, it broke the world record for largest flag.