Thirty-five years ago in June of 1978, Gilbert Baker stitched together eight colors of cotton fabric to make a flag. Little did Baker know on that fateful day that this flag would become a worldwide symbol of hope for the LGBT community.
From small beginnings to global recognition
Baker was raised in a small Kansas town. Born in 1951, he grew up feeling alone as he was plagued with the perplexing truth of his sexuality. His parents sent him to a psychologist to work things out, but instead he dealt with his inner turmoil through his own art therapy. His imagination served him well, and he sought to conjure up a better life for himself.
In 1970 he was drafted in the army leaving his Kansas life, and arrived in bustling San Francisco where he resided after receiving an honorable discharge two years later.
It was then that he took up sewing, so he could make clothes he couldn’t afford. He wanted to delve into drag, and designed David Bowie-esque outfits. He got involved in marches and activism in the Bay Area, and he would sew banners for LGBT parades and anti-war protests.
He befriended the late politician Harvey Milk, and was inspired by Milk’s optimistic vision.
In 1978, Baker’s sewing catapulted him to the forefront of LGBT rights movement when he made the rainbow flag. Baker and Milk debuted the flag on June 25, 1978, during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Since then, millions of individuals have embraced it.
A few months later, Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978. Baker, heartbroken, sought to carry out Milk’s activism. Baker returned to San Francisco in 2008 to reconstruct his banners and flags from the 1970s in honor of the film “Milk,” starring Sean Penn.
“My sewing craft was always my activism and my way to connect to the community,” Baker said on his recent visit to Miami Beach where he honored with the Keys to the City.
For Baker, the rainbow flags symbolizes a “beacon of hope,” intended as a “direct visibility action that belongs to everyone.”
Until he designed the rainbow flag, the pink triangle was the most recognized symbol of the gay community. But Baker felt that since the triangle was born out of oppressive Nazis rule, the community needed another symbol, a symbol that was born out of hope rather than fear, and so the rainbow flag came to be.
Baker broke two world records by creating the world’s longest flags for demonstrations. In 1994, he created a mile-long Rainbow Flag, which was carried by 5,000 people during New York City’s twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. And later in 2003, he broke the world’s largest flag record again in Key West, by displaying a flag that crossed the entire island from coast to coast.
In honor of the Rainbow Flag’s 35th milestone, Baker has created 35 limited edition flags with his signature. They can be purchased via his website: GilbertBaker.com.Adrea Richard