NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CBS San Francisco/CBS Chicago/AP) — Gilbert Baker, the man who created the iconic Rainbow Flag which became a symbol for LGBT rights, died Friday.
Baker was 65.
CBS News reported Baker died in New York. He had moved to New York City in 1994, according to a biography on his website.
Baker’s passing was announced by longtime friend Cleve Jones in a Twitter post, CBS San Francisco reported.
Baker was born in Kansas in 1951, and served in the army from 1970 until 1972. He was stationed in San Francisco just as the gay liberation movement began, according to his website biography.
Baker’s story as a solider was told in Randy Shilts’ book “Conduct Unbecoming,” his website said. After being honorably discharged, Baker stayed in San Francisco and taught himself to sew, according to his website.
Using his new skill, Baker began using his new talent to make banners for gay events and marches. That was how met and became friends with Harvey Milk, who became the first openly-gay elected supervisor of San Francisco in 1977, CBS Chicago recalled in a 2012 story.
Milk rode under Baker’s flag when it debuted to the public during the 1978 pride parade. Milk was assassinated later that year.
The first design of the Rainbow Flag included eight stripes, each a different color with its own symbolism. Pink represented sex, red represented life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for the human spirit.
Pink had to be dropped because at that time, it was not a commercially available color. Indigo would later be removed so that the flag would have an even six stripes, CBS Chicago reported.
“The rainbow is a part of nature and you have to be in the right place to see it,” Baker said. “It’s beautiful, all of the colors, even the colors you can’t see. That really fit us as a people because we are all of the colors. Our sexuality is all of the colors. We are all the genders, races and ages,” Baker told Steve Grzanich of WBBM Newsradio in Chicago in 2012.
The Rainbow Flag went on to become the international symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement and is arguably one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. Baker told WBBM Newsradio in 2012 that he was proud of his creation, but humbled by its status as the flag of a worldwide movement.
“A true flag is not something you can really design. A true flag is torn from the soul of the people. A flag is something that everyone owns and that’s why they work,” Baker told the station in 2012. “The Rainbow Flag is like other flags in that sense, it belongs to the people.”
Baker also did design work on numerous other flags.
He went to work in 1979 for the Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco, where his window displays drew the attention of Mayor Dianne Feinstein, according to his website. She commissioned Baker to design flags for her inaugural, and he went on to create flag displays for visits from such dignitaries as the Premier of China, the President of France, the President of the Philippines, and the King of Spain, his website said.
Baker also designed the flags for the 1984 Democratic National Convention, his website said.
When the Paramount Flag Company went out of business in 1987, Baker created flags for numerous events in San Francisco – including street displays for the city’s pride parade, his website said.
Baker also went on perfecting and popularizing the Rainbow Flag as it became an in-demand item around the world, and created an assortment of fine art celebrating the flag and the LGBT community, his website said.
Upon moving to New York City in 1994, Baker created a mile-long Rainbow Flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, his website said.
The banner measured 30 feet by 5,280 feet and was carried by 5,000 people, his website said.
The Rainbow Flag is in the public domain, which has allowed endless commercial reproduction. It has appeared on just about every surface imaginable, from underwear to dog collars.
“I think the Rainbow Flag will survive forever, primarily because it’s the perfect flag, regardless of whatever political meaning it may have or evolve to. A rainbow is something in the sky, so a rainbow flag fits,” Baker told WBBM Newsradio in 2012.
In 2008, Baker returned to San Francisco to recreate his original banners from the 70s for the Academy Award winning film “Milk,” CBS Chicago reported. Sean Penn portrayed Milk.
Baker also holds the world’s record for creating the largest flag, one that stretched sea to sea from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West, CBS Chicago reported.
There was no word on the cause of Baker’s death. No funeral arrangements were immediately announced, according to CBS San Francisco.
Jones asked people to gather for a memorial in San Francisco’s famed Castro District Friday evening.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)