“The rainbow flag is a symbol of freedom and liberation that we made for ourselves.”
World-famous political activist, art and flag-maker Gilbert Baker (1951-2017) created the Rainbow Flag in 1978. Over the next four decades, his creation would become embraced across the world as the universal symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement.
Baker was born in Kansas in 1951 and suffered as an overtly creative child in a conservative state. It was when he moved to San Francisco as an Army medic that he found a home as an openly gay man in the counterculture movement of the post-Stonewall era.
There, Gilbert used his artistic talents to create banners for anti-war and pro-gay marches and protests. Seeking to find representation for the gay and lesbian political movement, replacing the pink triangle, a Nazi relic from World War II, Baker and friends dyed and sewed the first Rainbow Flags, raising them on June 25, 1978 in SF’s United Nations Plaza to commemorate that year’s San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.
Influential figures such as San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor Dianne Feinstein supported Baker’s efforts, and helped raise the symbol to new heights, and Baker went on to create flags and banners for the city, culminating in the 1984 Democratic National Convention at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
The Rainbow Flag, which resides in the public domain, grew to become an international symbol for the LGBTQ community, allowing a previously oppressed population to celebrate their gifts and individualities openly. Baker himself won tremendous accolades for his design, and was a staunch advocate for the community for the rest of his life.
After his death, the Gilbert Baker estate, administered by his sister Ardonna Baker Cook, convened an Advisory Committee to help evaluate and support various programs, events and product endorsements that would properly honor Gilbert’s legacy of LGBT pride, liberty and visibility, work they continue to this day.
Why was the foundation set up after Gilbert’s death? What is the mission of the organization?
When Gilbert passed away in March of 2017, his friends and family worked together on a memorial honoring his life. We continued this work first by managing his estate, then by publishing his memoir and organizing an exhibit of his art, and finally by forming the official Gilbert Baker Foundation last year.
Our mission is to protect and extend the legacy of Gilbert Baker, the creator of the LGBTQ Rainbow Flag, as an activist, artist and educator; to record and promote the history of the creation of the Rainbow Flag and its impact on the world; to educate future generations about the LGBTQ Rainbow Flag; to support and empower our mission on a collaborative level between the Foundation and allies, including the LGBTQ community and artists, organizations, educational institutions, non-profits, museums, archives and the press; and to promote this mission to the wider world beyond the LGBTQ community.