American artist and gay rights activist who designed the rainbow flag in 1978. Baker's flag became widely associated with LGBT rights causes, a symbol of gay pride that became ubiquitous in the decades since its debut.
Gilbert was born in Chanute, Kansas, and graduated from high school in Parsons, Kansas. His father was a lawyer and judge, his mother a teacher.
He served in the US Army 1970-1972 as an Army medic and nurse, which stationed him at a San Francisco military hospital caring for wounded Vietnam War soldiers, just at the start of the gay liberation movement. His soldier’s story is told in Randy Shilts book “Conduct Unbecoming”. After being honorably discharged Baker stayed in San Francisco and taught himself to sew.
As Clive Moore wrote in Sunshine and Rainbows: Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland, “Bright colors have always been forms of gay identification, particularly green, yellow, pink, lavender and purple.” Baker latched onto this history to create a new symbol in the Rainbow Flag.
“I didn’t even think twice about what the flag would be,” he later said. “A rainbow fit us. It is from nature. It connects us to all the colors — all the colors of sexuality, all the diversity in our community.”
The original Rainbow Flag had eight colors, each with an individual meaning:
pink for sex,
red for life,
orange for healing,
yellow for the sun,
green for nature,
turquoise for magic,
blue for serenity, and
purple for the spirit.
“This was the hippie, 1978 meanings for the thing,” Baker said.
Over time, the flag was cut down to six colors. First, pink was cut because the dye for it was apparently difficult to obtain at the time for mass production. Then the committee organizing the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade cut turquoise to give the flag an even number of colors, so it could be flown as two halves in San Francisco.
"I decided that we should have a flag, a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will," Baker told the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
“Together, we’re changing our world, our planet, from a place of hate and violence and war to a place of love and diversity and acceptance,” he said in 2009. “That is why we’re here. That’s the big, long rainbow — from before me to well after me.”
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