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On his 66th birthday, Google is honoring Gilbert Baker, the man who created the LGBT pride rainbow flag. Nicknamed the “Gay Betsy Ross,” Baker passed away earlier this year on March 31, 2017 but still, his legacy lives on.
According to Google, Doodler Nate Swinehart, who is part of the LGBT community, “wanted to capture that same community spirit Gilbert Baker treasured. He collaborated with other team members, including other LGBT Doodlers who felt personally connected to the project, to nail down the right concept.”
The Doodle created by Swinehart and his team, consists “of a stop-motion animation of actual fabric strips coming together to create the flag. They made a trip to local San Franciscan fabric shops and filmed the doodle in a tiny kitchen only a few blocks from the same spot where Baker and his friends constructed that first flag in 1978.”
Where did Gilbert Baker’s idea come from?
Baker’s idea for the Rainbow Flag came in 1976 out of noticing the presence of the American flag during the bicentennial in everything from art to fashion to household items. Through this he realized that a flag has the ability to communicate powerfully and simply.
“So the American flag was my introduction into that great big world of vexillography. But I didn’t really know that much about it,” Baker said.
“I was a big drag queen in 1970s San Francisco. I knew how to sew and I was in the right place at the right time to make the thing that we needed. It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the pink triangle from the Nazis—it was the symbol that they would use [to denote gay people]. It came from such a horrible place of murder and holocaust and Hitler.”
“We needed something beautiful, something from us,” Baker continues. “The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky!”
In an interview with the MoMA in 2015, Baker was asked how the flag played a role in bringing acceptance to the gay community, but he insists “we are way far away from where we need to be.”
Much has changed for some, but as a global vision, we are way far away from where we need to be. We are still dealing with huge, massive resistance, even here in our own country, even here in our own city, even in our own families. What the rainbow has given our people is a thing that connects us. I can go to another country, and if I see a rainbow flag, I feel like that’s someone who is a kindred spirit or [that it’s] a safe place to go. Its sort of a language, and it’s also proclaiming power. That’s the phenomenal [aspect] of it. I made it in 1978 and I hoped it would be a great symbol but it has transcended all of that—and within short order—because it became so much bigger than me, than where I was producing it, much bigger even that the U.S. Now it’s made all over the world. The beauty of it is the way that it has connected us.
What do the colors mean in the rainbow?
The flag consisted of eight colors, each representing part of the community:
Today’s flag now has six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. According to a 2009 interview, the hot pink stripe was taken out when a commercial version was made. Not because it represented sex, but because that color of fabric was too expensive. In 1979, the indigo stripe was removed before the Gay Freedom Day Parade, as its organizing committee wanted to fly the flag in two halves, from light poles on Market Street in San Francisco, so they needed equal sides.
How can we honor his legacy?
Gilbert Baker died in his sleep at the age of 65 on March 31 of this year in New York City. The medical examiner’s office said in a statement that he died of “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”
A celebration of Baker’s life is set for June 8 at 7:00 pm at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Tickets are free and can be bought here.