Gilbert Baker, the creator of the iconic rainbow flag that has become a key symbol for the LGBTQ community, passed away in his sleep March 31 at age 65.
Baker, along with volunteers, tie-dyed and hand-stitched rainbow flags at a gay community center in 1978 and first unveiled them that June after Harvey Milk asked Baker to create an emblem for the gay rights movement.
“We stood there and watched and saw the flags, and their faces lit up,” Cleve Jones, a friend of Baker said. “It needed no explanation. People knew immediately that it was our flag.”
Baker, a self-described “gay Betsy Ross” was found dead in his New York apartment, having passed away from hypertensive heart disease, according to the report from the medical examiner’s office.
According to Baker, the original plan for a symbol for the LGBTQ movement was a pink triangle, a symbol that was created by the Nazis.
“It came from such a place of murder and Holocaust and Hitler,” Baker said in a 2005 interview. “We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it represents diversity in terms of race, genders, ages, all of those things. Plus it’s a natural flag – it’s from the sky.”
In 1994, Baker created a mile-long rainbow flag for the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riot of 1969. In 2003, Baker chose Key West, Fla., to commemorate the flag’s 25th anniversary. He wanted to create a flag that went from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
“He told us about the upcoming 25th anniversary of the flag and was looking for some way and a place to commemorate it,” Monore County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said, dubbing the 1.25-mile-long flag the ‘Sea-to-Sea Rainbow Flag.’
“I consider my involvement as one of the primary achievements of my life,” Carruthers said.
After the news of the iconic activist passing, many paid tributes via social media.
“Rest in peace Gilbert Baker – creator of the rainbow flag,” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. “A perfect symbol for unity and pride.”
“GayGod, you’d think I’d be a pro at losing the people I love by now. I’m a mess. I <3 U, Gilbert Baker. His RainbowFlag Workshop #WhenWeRise,” LGBT activist and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tweeted.
Baker never patented his rainbow design.
“It was his gift to the world,” Jones said in the interview with the New York Times. “He told me when the flag first went up that he knew at that moment that it was his life’s work.”