Gilbert Baker, designer of iconic rainbow flag, has died

155108 full
155108 full

Gilbert Baker, who in 1978, designed the first rainbow flag representing the LGBT rights movement, has died. He was 65.

Baker's death was first announced Friday on Twitter by his friend Cleve Jones, an LGBT activist and author of the book, “When We Rise.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) also confirmed Baker’s death, calling the artist an LGBT icon who played a key role in defining the modern LGBT community.

“For generations of LGBT people, myself included, the rainbow flag was part of our coming out and our discovery of community,” Wiener told KPCC. “Rest in power, Gilbert. You will be missed.”

Baker was born in Kansas and served in the U.S. Army in the early 1970s, according to his website. After being stationed in San Francisco, where he was honorably discharged in 1972, he made the city his home.

He taught himself to sew and put that skill to use making banners for gay and anti-war street protest marches, according to his website. Often, he’d put posters and banners together for his good friend Harvey Milk, who became California's first openly gay person to be elected to public office.

After America’s bicentennial in 1976, Baker began to look at flags in a different way, he said during an interview with KPCC in 2013. He was fascinated by the American flag and the way it was used as a symbol, he said.

“I thought, [the LGBT community] should have our own flag to proclaim our own power and our own place,” he said.

In 1978, Baker stitched together eight hand-dyed pieces of fabric – each of them different colors of the rainbow. The flag debuted at that summer's San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, he said. 

For Baker, it was a "wow" moment. 

"Did I know it was going to become the international symbol for the movement?" he said. "Not right at that moment. But in the moment, what struck me was the astonishing beauty of it." 

Later, he removed two of the colors, turquoise and hot pink, from the design because U.S. flag manufacturers at the time didn’t carry those colors, he said.

The result was the iconic rainbow flag recognized as a symbol of the LGBT rights movement around the world. Baker told KPCC he estimated millions of the flags had been reproduced around the world.

“From the very first minute it was a flag in the sky, I knew it was a hit,” Baker said. “You could see it in people’s eyes. It was theirs. They loved it.”

Additional details of Baker's death and funeral arrangements aren't publicly available yet. In a second Facebook post, Cleve Jones said a memorial service would be held Friday evening in San Francisco, beneath one of Baker's original flags.

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