Gilbert Baker (June 2, 1951 – March 31, 2017) was a gay rights activist and the artist who designed the rainbow flag in 1978. Baker's flag quickly became the symbol of the LGBT rights movement. The original flag had 8 colors, two colors were eventually combined and one color, pink, removed.
Baker served in the army from 1970 to 1972. He was stationed in San Francisco at the beginning of the gay rights movement. After his honorable discharge from the military, he taught himself to sew. He used his skill to create banners for gay-rights and anti-war protest marches. It was during this time that he met and became friends with Harvey Milk. Baker later refused to trademark his rainbow flag calling it his gift to the LGBT rights movement.
In 1979, Baker began work at Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco. Baker designed displays for Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Premier of China, the presidents of France, Venezuela and the Philippines, the King of Spain, and others. He also designed creations for numerous civic events and San Francisco Gay Pride. In 1984, he designed flags for the Democratic National Convention.
In 1994, Baker moved to New York City, where he lived for the rest of his life. Here, he continued his creative work and activism. That year he created the world's largest flag (at that time) in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
In 2003, to commemorate the Rainbow Flag’s 25th anniversary, Baker created a Rainbow Flag that would be unfurled stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West. After the commemoration, he sent sections of this flag to more than 100 cities around the world. Due to his creation of the rainbow flag, Baker often used the drag queen name "Busty Ross.”
In 2008 Baker said in an interview that he knew immediately from the way people reacted to the flag that it was “going to be something. I didn’t know what or how – but I knew.”
Baker, 65, died on March 30, in New York City. He is survived by his life partner Alex Bruno. Upon Baker's death, California state senator Scott Wiener said Baker "helped define the modern LGBT movement." When long time friend and activist Cleve Jones heard of Baker’s death he described the flag’s first appearance at the 1978 gay pride parade saying, “It was quite amazing to stand there and watch all these thousands of people march beneath those giant flags…people looked up and their faces lit up, and without any explanation this was now our flag.”