Gilbert Baker, who created the rainbow flag that became an international symbol of gay rights, has died at age 65.
Baker created the flag in June 1978 for the San Francisco Pride Parade. Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was assassinated later that year along with Mayor George Moscone, rode under the rainbow flag made by Baker. According to his online biography, Baker credits Milk with inspiring his work.
Activist Cleve Jones, who was mentored by Milk and worked for him when he was supervisor, said Baker was his “closest friend” for more than 40 years and that Jones helped Baker dye the fabric for that first rainbow flag that flew in the 1978 parade.
“I told him to patent it,” Jones recalled with a sad chuckle, adding that Baker refused to do so. “He said it was his gift for the world… When he saw it fly that first day in ’78, he knew that it was his life’s work.”
Baker died peacefully in his sleep Thursday night at his home in Harlem, Jones said. He had suffered a stroke several years ago that had left him “quite disabled,” but Jones said that Baker had recovered and even taught himself to sew again.
“He created many more banners and flags,” Jones said. “I saw him last for the premiere of ‘When We Rise,'” he added, referring to the TV series that focuses on LGBT rights. Jones said that Baker actually hand-dyed and sewed the flag used in that series.
“He brought me a banner that he’d made for me, a giant banner that says, ‘Rise and Resist,'” Jones said of the last time he saw his friend.
Jones and other friends of Baker will meet at 7 p.m. Friday for a vigil under the rainbow flag designed by Baker at Castro and Market streets.
“He touched the hearts of literally hundreds of millions of people. He was an extraordinary man,” Jones said. “For me, he was just my best friend. I’m really heartbroken.”