A little bit of fabric and a vision can go a long way. Just ask gay rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, who spoke to a captivated audience Thursday, Sept. 12 at Miami Beach Botanical Garden.
Baker’s impact as a gay rights activist has garnered him world wide attention as a leader in the LGBT movement, and the City of Miami was sure to welcome him on Thursday evening with an honor – the key to the city.
His speech began with a reflection on his early life in a small Kansas town. There he grew up feeling different, alone and riddled with guilt, so he dealt with it all through his own art therapy he said.
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 such as in the vein of David Bowie’s glam era. He wanted to delve into drag. He got involved in marches and activism in the Bay Area, and befriended Harvey Milk. He would sew banners for marches and gay protests.
But it wasn’t until 1978 that he came up with an idea that would ultimately serve as the most globally recognized LGBT pride symbol – the rainbow flag. He constructed the first one with eight pieces of different colors – each of which correspond to a meaning.
“My sewing craft was always my activism and my way to connect to the community,” Baker said on Thursday to a packed room of nearly 150 attendees.
As Baker shared his life story a feeling of inspiration swept the room. He would pause between witty banter, the crowd would laugh and clap, and his eyes would sparkle as though passion fills his blood.
For Baker, the rainbow flags symbolizes a “beacon of hope,” intended as a “direct visibility action that belongs to everyone.” What is unique about this flag is it can be hung either way, up or down, there’s no strict rules governing how it’s positioned on a pole like the American flag.
“We must not be afraid to rise up and change the world,” he said. He wrapped up his speech, and proceeded with a Q&A session with the audience.
“Fire away,” he began, and so the questions started with gushing attendees proclaiming their admiration for his work, his flag and his inspiring contribution to the community.
“A lot of people ask me about music, and of course that Judy Garland song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ comes up. But tonight, we are under the rainbow longing to be free,” he joked, looking up at a rainbow flag that was suspended from the ceiling spanning the entire room.
When asked where the most shocking place was that he spotted his flag, he said it was in Milan, Italy during the mid-2000s. It was there where flags emblazoned with “pace,” Italian for peace became trendy. Did this imitation cause him distress? No. “It amused me to see it,” he admitted.
Until he designed the rainbow flag, the pink triangle was used to represent LGBT social movement, a symbol born out oppressive Nazis rule according to Baker. So he sought to make a change, a positive change.
Baker has broke two world records through creating the world’s longest flags for demonstrations.
A rainbow flag was placed at the back of the room for attendees to sign. Baker stayed awhile after his Q&A to pose with fans.
His speech ended with a standing ovation.
Find Gilbert Baker online at www.GilbertBaker.com.