Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the iconic rainbow flag that has come to symbolize the modern LGBT movement, died today of natural causes in his Manhattan home. He was 65.
Baker first learned to sew in San Francisco after a stint in the army. He soon became involved in the gay liberation movement, making banners for gay and anti-war protests, sometimes at the behest of gay rights leader Harvey Milk, a longtime friend of his.
The first rainbow flag flew for Pride in San Francisco on June 25, 1978.
“Flags are torn from the soul of the people,” Baker told a writer for the 2007 book, The American Flag, Two Centuries of Conflict and Concord. The Rainbow Flag is in the public domain, as are all flags, and Baker did not profit from its usage as a commercial product.
Throughout his career as an artist, Baker revisited the rainbow design, reinterpreting and expanding his original vision.
After moving to New York City in 1994, he created a mile-long Rainbow Flag for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot. Measuring 30 by 5280 feet and carried by 5,000 people, it broke the world’s record for largest flag.
He broke his own record in 2003, the 25th anniversary of the rainbow flag. This one stretched literally from sea to sea—from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West.
Gilbert Baker leaves behind a mother and a sister. He wrote an as-yet unpublished memoir about his life.