Sad news last Friday when I learned that Gilbert Baker, an artist and activist who created the rainbow flag, had died in his sleep. Gilbert, a military veteran, was in San Francisco when the gay-rights movement was beginning, and he designed banners and flags for numerous events. Over the years he organized numerous activities in San Francisco, and later in New York City, after he had moved there. He will always be best known I think for the flag which became an lgbt symbol.
Gilbert Baker made a difference in the world, in many ways. The flag was but one of them. Watching television coverage of his life over the weekend, it was interesting to see PBS NewHour anchor Hari Sreenivasan reported on him and CBS Sunday Morning to devote a segment. We don't see a lot of coverage of gay newsmakers.
It was Baker who gave drag queens more visibility when he organized the first San Francisco drag march back in 1999. Wearing a red, white, and blue "Betsy Ross" outfit and pink stilettos, Gilbert led the parade of cross-dressers through the streets of the city with the sound of the Rolling Stones singing "She's A Rainbow." This was just one of many events where Baker was front and center, but it was his iconic rainbow flag that is more recognized. The six color version of the rainbow, is what we have come to know, but the first version back in 1978 had two more stripes: hot pink and turquoise. They were removed because of both manufacturing needs, and the greater ease in hanging the six-stripe version.
In the 72 hours since the world found out that Gilbert had died, there has been an outpouring of memories from all over the world. California state senator Scott Wiener said Baker "helped define the modern LGBT movement." San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, hung a rainbow flag at half-staff from his City Hall balcony and said "The passing of gay rights activist Gilbert Baker is a loss for San Francisco and the LGBT community. Thank you for the lasting gift." Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who most recently gave us When We Rise (where Gilbert's character is shown sewing the flag) tweeted, "Rainbows weep. Our world is far less colorful without you, my love. Gilbert Baker gave us the rainbow flag to unite us. Unite again."