Gilbert Baker, creator of iconic LGBT rainbow flag, dies at 65

"Flags are about power," Baker had said. "Flags say something."

ByABC News
April 1, 2017, 4:40 AM

— -- The man who created the LGBT community's now-iconic symbol -- the rainbow flag -- has died.

Gilbert Baker died in his sleep at his apartment in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, San Francisco supervisor Jeff Sheehy told ABC affiliate KGO. Baker was 65.

The rainbow flag's storied history began in 1978 when San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk -- who was assassinated in November of that year -- enlisted Baker to create something that would represent the LGBT community and replace the pink triangle that Nazis used to identify gays. Milk paid Baker $1,000 for his work, according to KGO.

The colors of the rainbow were intended to symbolize hope and unity.

"Flags are about power," Baker had told KGO in an interview. "Flags say something. You put a rainbow flag on your windshield and you're saying something."

The GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco wrote on its Facebook page that Gilbert had donated one of the sewing machines he used to create the flag. He also donated one of the 100 hand-dyed reproductions of the flag he made several years ago, the non-profit organization said.

As word of Gilbert's death spread, tributes began pouring in.

LGBT activist Cleve Jones posted on his Facebook Friday, "I am heartbroken. My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me forty years of love and friendship. I can't stop crying. I love you forever Gilbert Baker."

San Francisco mayor Ed Lee said the "iconic and beloved" rainbow flag will fly at half-staff form his balcony. Lee also issued a lengthy statement, remembering Gilbert as a "trailblazer for LGBT rights, a powerful artists and a true friend to all who knew him."

Lee said the rainbow flag is "more than just a symbol. It is the embodiment of the LGBT community, and it has become a source of solace, comfort and pride for all those who look upon it. Standing side-by-side with Harvey Milk, Gilbert first raised the flag here in San Francisco, but those rainbow colors are now seen around the world."

Lee also acknowledged how Lee was an integral part of the LGBT rights movement, writing, "At a time of great uncertainty in the LGBT community, Gilbert's act of sewing together multicolored materials unified and empowered individuals across the country, helping to bring them together under a common cause."

On Friday night, a memorial was held in San Francisco's Castro District, which was a hotbed of LGBT activism during the 1970s. Carrying rainbow flags and a banner that read "Rise and Resist," people marched down the street chanting "Long live Gilbert Baker" and "We love Gilbert Baker"."

During the memorial, the main rainbow flag in the Castro was lowered in Baker's honor, and replaced with a new one.

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