Gilbert Baker, the artist responsible for designing the queer community's recognizable rainbow flag, has died. The San Francisco Chroniclereports Baker passed in his sleep on Thursday while at home in New York. He was 65 years old.
Born in 1951 in Kansas, Baker moved to San Francisco in '70s, just as the movement for LGBT liberation was bubbling. He was stationed there while serving in the U.S. army and sewed a number of protest banners, advocating for gay rights and anti-war. Baker created the first iteration of the rainbow flag for Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California, who debuted the flag in June 1978 for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.
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"Flags are about power, about visibility. You can't really design a flag," Baker told OUT, speaking to the symbolic nature of the rainbow flag, which was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art this year in 2015. The queer artist admitted he'd seen plenty of "tacky rainbow stuff" since first creating the flag, but was especially touched that the White House was lit in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling. "I just burst into tears that day," he said.
Writer and activist Cleve Jones took to Twitter to mourn his friend: "My dearest friend in the world is gone," he wrote. "Gilbert Baker gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me forty years of love and friendship."
New York mayor Bill De Blasio also offered his condolences:
Baker's original flag had eight stripes of color: pink (for sexuality), red (for life), orange (for healing), yellow (for sunlight), green (for nature), turquoise (for art), indigo (for harmony) and violet (for the human spirit). The updated flag dropped both pink and violet, and switched turquoise to blue.
The GLBT Historical Society has requested people fly their rainbow flags at half mast to honor the late artist.