Gilbert Baker, the artist and gay activist who designed the LGBT community’s rainbow flag, has died at the age of 65. Baker reportedly died on Thursday night in his sleep at his home in New York City, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“My dearest friend in the world is gone. Clive Baker gave the world the rainbow flag, he gave me forty years of love and friendship,” Cleve Jones, a friend, announced on Twitter.
He also tweeted a photo showing Baker with former President Barack Obama and announced that a ceremony would be held on Friday evening in the Castro district of San Francisco to remember Baker, the Guardian reported.
No information was available about the cause of Baker’s death, but several people reacted to the news.
“Rainbows weep. Our world is far less colorful without you, my love. Gilbert Baker gave us the rainbow flag to unite us. Unite again,” the Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tweeted.
According to California State Senator Weiner, Baker’s creation “helped to define the modern LGBT movement.
“Rest in power, Gilbert,” he added, according to the BBC.
Baker was based in San Francisco when he created the LGBT rainbow flag in 1978. He was born in Kansas in 1951 but was stationed in San Francisco in the early 1970s while serving in the army. The early 1970s witnessed the start of the gay rights movement in San Francisco.
Baker reportedly taught himself how to sew after he left the army and began designing and making banners for the gay rights and anti-war protest movements. He often made the banners at the request of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to be elected to public office in California. Milk was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors.
Baker later explained that he had the idea to create the original version of the rainbow flag because he thought the LGBT community in San Francisco at the time was like a tribe or a nation in need of a unifying symbol.
He explained that he used the colors to express the idea of diversity and inclusion and to assert that “sexuality is a human right.”
“I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will,” Baker explained while speaking at an event at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015. “And flags are about proclaiming power, so it’s very appropriate.”
“A flag really fits that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility, or saying, ‘This is who I am!'”
Baker designed the original LGBT rainbow flag in 1978, an eight-color design for San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade, the early version of the present pride parade.
The eight-color rainbow flag was first flown at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade. Each color had a different meaning: Red (life), Orange (healing), sexuality (pink), nature (green), sunlight (yellow), art (turquoise), human spirit (violet), harmony (indigo).
The flag was later modified by reducing the colors to its present six. Pink and indigo were removed and turquoise replaced with blue. After the new version of the rainbow flag was introduced, the New York Museum of Modern Art acquired the old flag, describing it as a “powerful design milestone.”
Five months after the flag made its debut, San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated. The renewed activism within the gay community following his assassination propelled the rainbow pride flag to prominence as the rallying symbol of the LGBT community.
Commenting later on the circumstances of Milk’s death, Baker said it underscored the need for gay people to come out and be “visible, to live the truth, to get out of the lie.”
“Harvey Milk was a friend of mine, an important gay leader in San Francisco in the ’70s, and he carried a really important message about how important it was to be visible, how important it was to come out, and that was the single most important thing we had to do,” Baker said, according to Rolling Stone. “Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth as I say, to get out of the lie.”
San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee hung a gay pride flag at half-staff from the United Nations Plaza in honor of Baker.
“Gilbert was a trailblazer for LGBT rights, a powerful artist and a true friend to all who knew him. Our thoughts are with his friends and family. He will be missed,” he tweeted.
A candlelight vigil in honor of Baker is planned in San Francisco at 7 p.m. local time on Friday.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]