You may not know Gilbert Baker’s name, but you definitely know his creations. In 1978, Baker sewed together eight pieces of vibrant colors to create the iconic rainbow flag—an enduring symbol of gay pride.
Baker passed away at his home in New York City on March 31st. He was 65 years old. To celebrate his life and legacy, Baker’s friends and associates are planning two memorial events–one in New York City, the other in San Francisco. Baker’s mother and sister wanted them held on June 14th, Flag Day.
“Gilbert loved Flag Day so much, it was as important to him as Gay Pride Day,” said Baker’s longtime friend Charley Beal. Shortly after his death, Baker’s friends decided his service shouldn’t be a somber memorial in a church. “Instead, we decided on a rally and march because Gilbert was a street activist, not a country club activist.”
Baker was also a visionary.
His rainbow flag was unfurled at a time when the gay rights movement was thriving in New York City and San Francisco. Both cities will honor him. The New York memorial takes place on Flag Day. A celebration of Baker’s life is planned for Thurs., June 8 at 7 p.m. at the Castro Theatre. The event is free and open to the public. The celebration includes a multimedia celebration of all stages of Baker's life and work, including music, visual art, video, film and photography.
Baker’s flag was unveiled at a time when the gay rights movement was thriving in New York City and San Francisco. He called both cities home at different times in his life, when he was busy marching, demonstrating and creating. “Gilbert created art every day,” Beal said.
His original rainbow flag had eight colors, each stripe carrying its own significance: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for peace and purple for spirit. Pink was later removed and turquoise and blue were combined into one color, royal blue.
Since its introduction, the rainbow flag has become a universal symbol for peace and love. It is the symbol for LGBT rights. After the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, more than 26 million people on Facebook changed their profile photos to include the flag, created by Baker.
Wilton Manors is one town of many nowadays, where the rainbow flag is ubiquitous. Beal said after Stonewall 25, in 1994, Baker would become annoyed seeing the rainbow flag as a series of tchotchkes, but his feelings eventually changed.
“I think within a few years, he had a 180 degree turnaround and he grew to embrace it all,” Beal said. “Gilbert came to realize how important it was and how this thing he created had gotten much bigger than him. Whether it was on the White House, Eiffel Tower, a coffee mug or keychain, he came to love it all and it was a great compliment to him.”
Shortly before his passing, Baker had finished creating 39 nine-color flags — the eight original colors, plus lavender to represent diversity — to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the first rainbow flag.
The June 14 memorial for Baker in New York City begins at 6 p.m. at
the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street and continues to the Christopher Street Pier. They will raise a Rainbow Flag and call for a rededication to progressive and radical activism, completing the tribute at 9 p.m.
Members of Baker’s family, as well as other LGBTI activists, will be speaking.
More information about both events can be found here https://www.facebook.com/gilbertbakermemorial/.
For people who cannot attend the events in San Francisco or New York, Beal hopes that people all over the world will wear or raise a rainbow flag in Baker’s honor. You can read more about Baker and his work here http://www.gilbertbaker.com/site/.