Gilbert Baker (June 2, 1951 – March 31, 2017) was an 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 pride that became ubiquitous in the decades since its debut. Gilbert Baker was born on June 2, 1951 in Chanute, Kansas. He grew up in Parsons, Kansas, where his grandmother owned a women’s clothing store. His father was a judge and his mother was a teacher. Baker served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1972. He was stationed in San Francisco at the beginning of the gay rights movement. After his honorable discharge from the military, he taught himself to sew. He used his skill to create banners for gay-rights and anti-war protest marches. It was during this time that he met and became friends with Harvey Milk. He first created the Rainbow Flag in 1978. However, Baker refused to trademark it. In 1979, Baker began work at Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco, then located on the southwest corner of Polk Street and Post Street in the Polk Gulch neighborhood. Baker designed displays for Dianne Feinstein, the Premier of China, the presidents of France, Venezuela and the Philippines, the King of Spain, and many others. He also designed creations for numerous civic events and San Francisco Gay Pride. In 1984, he designed flags for the Democratic National Convention.
In 1994, Baker moved to New York City, where he lived for the rest of his life. Here, he continued his creative work and activism. That year he created the world’s largest flag (at that time) in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. In 2003, to commemorate the Rainbow Flag’s 25th anniversary, Baker created a Rainbow Flag that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West. After the commemoration, he sent sections of this flag to more than 100 cities around the world. Due to his creation of the rainbow flag, Baker often used the drag queen name “Busty Ross”. Gilbert Baker died in his sleep on March 31, 2017, at the age of 65, in New York City. On his death, California state senator Scott Wiener said Baker “helped define the modern LGBT movement”.
- June, 02, 1951
- Chanute, Kansas
- March, 31, 2017
- New York, New York