‘I crawled under my bed and screamed’: Friend’s devastation at the passing of gay flag designer Gilbert Baker
Photo: Gilbert Baker
Gilbert Baker created the Rainbow Flag which debuted at San Francisco Pride in 1978.
Gilbert Baker, creator of the iconic rainbow flag, died on 31 March at age 65.
GSN spoke with Charley Beal, film art director and a close friend of Baker’s, about the 14 June memorial of Baker’s life and legacy.
Baker, a vexillologist, first created the flag in 1978. According to Beal, Baker created the flag as a symbol of gay pride because he was disillusioned with the other images used at the time, such as the pink triangle which was a relic of World War II but later reclaimed by the LGBTI community.
The flag originally had eight colors, but hot pink and turquoise were later removed due to the lack of availability of those dyes. The now-famous flag’s final version consists of six colors: red to represent life, orange to represent healing, yellow to represent sunlight, green to represent nature, indigo to represent harmony, and violet to represent spirit.
Beal met Baker in 1994 when he made a mile-long rainbow flag for Stonewall 25, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that started the Pride movement. Pieces of that flag were sent around the world, thus helping to internationalize the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay culture. This was a key moment in Baker’s life, as he was then invited to travel all over the world to promote the flag.
People would always question why Baker never sought any money or copyright for the flag. Though technically one cannot copyright a flag, Baker never even wanted to try. To him, the flag was a gift to the LGBTI community. One of Baker’s proudest moments was upon the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Monuments all over the world, from the White House to the Eiffel Tower, were lit up in Baker’s signature rainbow colors in celebration.
Baker was a passionate activist, creating banners for all types of social movements. In 2013, he created a ‘PUSSY POWER’ banner in solidarity with the Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, who were treated horribly by the anti-LGBTI Putin regime. In 2014, he bolstered the Irish LGBTI community’s protests of their exclusion at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade by creating a ‘BOYCOTT HOMOPHOBIA’ banner.
‘I broke down. I crawled under my bed and screamed and cried. I was crushed,’ Beal recalls upon hearing the news Baker had passed. ‘He was my closest friend. I was always there for him and he was always there for me.’
Beal is working with Baker’s family to put together a memorial march, taking place on Flag Day (14 June). As a flag designer, Flag Day was an important holiday to Baker. The NYC march will start at Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street and continue to the Christopher Street Docks. Members of Baker’s family, as well as other LGBTI activists, will be speaking.
Even if one cannot attend the event, Beal hopes that people all over the world will raise a rainbow flag on 14 June in Baker’s honor.
For younger members of the LGBTI community who may not know of Baker, Beal wishes for them ‘to connect to [Baker’s] philosophy of hope,’ as the pride flag was a symbol of hope for Baker. Beal also encourages those in the LGBTI community to honor Baker’s legacy by becoming an activist and taking to the streets, which is what Baker spent his life doing.
Learn more about the memorial event on the Gilbert Baker Memorial Facebook page.