Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag, died Friday (March 31) in New York at the age of 65.
In a Facebook post, Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist and friend of Baker’s, said, “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.”
Jones is calling for people to meet at 7 p.m. Friday at the large rainbow flag in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.
Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for New York’s Chief Medical Examiner, said in response to an email from the Bay Area Reporter Friday, “I can confirm that the death was reported to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner today and our office will be investigating to determine the cause and manner of death.”
Audrey Joseph, a local nightlife promoter who produced the main stage at San Francisco’s LGBT Pride celebration for years, said Baker “was many things to many people but to our community he was an amazing activist and the creator of the Gay Pride flag. Please keep Gilbert in your thoughts.”
Local queer historian Gerard Koskovich said, “We have lost one of the greats of our community. Let us now lower rainbow flags worldwide to half mast in Gilbert’s memory.”
In a call with the B.A.R. Friday, Dan Nicoletta, who’s spent decades photographing LGBT history, recalled first meeting Baker, who became known as the gay Betsy Ross, around 1977.
“He was a classic gay hippie boy,” Nicoletta said. “He was beautiful. He was sweet. He was very creative, like kind of a little tornado, and I just enjoyed being in proximity to him. We co-habitated that creative space together, and it was pure joy, really.”
Gay San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who represents the Castro and other neighborhoods in District 8, said in a statement, “The 8-color flag which later became the 6-color flag is now the global symbol for the LGBT community. Gilbert was a master of political theatre and the core of his personal being was artistry. The rainbow flag will always be his greatest work of art.”
Sheehy added,”Gilbert was an inspiration to me and my hero. My heart aches and I will miss him dearly.”
In his statement, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said, “Gilbert Baker was an LGBT icon and played a key role defining the modern LGBT community. For generations of LGBT people, myself included, the rainbow flag was part of our coming out and our discovery of community. Rest in power, Gilbert. You will be missed.”
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement that he was “saddened” to hear of Baker’s death.
“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,” Lee said.
“The rainbow flag is more than just a symbol,” he continued. “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 [gay rights icon and former San Francisco Supervisor] Harvey Milk, Gilbert first raised the flag here in San Francisco, but those rainbow colors are now seen around the world.”
Lee’s office said that the rainbow flag would fly at half-staff from the mayor’s balcony.
However, there are no plans to lower the large flag that has flown for decades over the Castro at Harvey Milk Plaza.
Dan Bergerac, president of the Castro Merchants business group, which oversees the flag, told the B.A.R., “Per Gilbert’s request, the flag will remain as he intended, flying high with pride.”
Jones also made that point on Facebook.
“It was Gilbert’s wish that the Rainbow Flag NOT be lowered, even in his honor,” he said in response to a post by gay activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca calling on the flag to be lowered to half mast. “This wish was expressed clearly and repeatedly to his closest friends.”
The B.A.R. will have more in the Thursday, April 6 edition of the paper.