Gilbert Baker, a gay rights activist and creator of the iconic rainbow flag, died Friday, March 31, 2017, at his home in New York City, according to multiple news sources. He was 65.
Baker created the flag in 1978 while living in San Francisco. Following the assassination of openly gay city Supervisor Harvey Milk, he was asked to create a symbol for a gay pride parade.
The original flag was designed with eight color bands: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity, and purple for spirit. The flag proved an immediate hit.
“We stood there and watched and saw the flags, and their faces lit up,” Cleve Jones, a friend and fellow gay rights activist told The New York Times. “It needed no explanation. People knew immediately that it was our flag.”
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Later versions were simplified to six colors, dropping pink and turquoise, for mass production. Baker never trademarked the flag.
It soon became the dominant emblem of gay pride and the movement to advocate for the rights of LGBT and questioning people. It can be seen in marches around the world and is often displayed outside homes and businesses. A symbol of celebration, love, and inclusion, it has also been adapted into myriad forms ranging from clothing to bumper stickers and beyond.
“A flag translates into everything, from tacky souvenirs to the names of organizations,” Baker said in a 2008 interview.
Baker was born June 2, 1951, in Chanute, Kansas. He served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972. Stationed in San Francisco, he remained in the city after his honorable discharge and became involved in the gay rights movement.
In 2008, he spoke about the progress that had been made since the creation of the rainbow flag in 1978.
“I mean, I look at like where we are today, and I can’t believe it,” Baker said, “in my lifetime we’re even talking about marriage and that, having this out and this open. We’re all part of this incredible wave of change for human rights.”
Published by The Telegraph on Apr. 1, 2017.