|The LGBT Rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978|
Bugs’ interview with Gilbert Baker originally ran in Daily Xtra.
The Rainbow flag is recognized by millions of people around the world as a symbol of gay liberation. But ask Gilbert Baker – the Rainbow flag creator and veteran American gay-rights activist – how he feels about his international phenomenon and he is quite modest.
|Gilbert Baker (Photo via Facebook)|
Which is why when people discover who Baker is, the love he gets is pretty much unconditional.
“I’ve been a grand marshal in New York, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Key West, Vancouver, a lot of cities, and I never get tired of it,” he says. “Each and every time I find it emotional because people exude such love, wave after wave. People love the flag, and as creator of the flag, I get a lot of love.”
Baker created the Rainbow flag 35 years ago at the request of slain gay activist and icon Harvey Milk in 1978. After his honourable discharge from the US army in 1972, Baker taught himself how to sew and used his skill to create banners for gay-rights and anti-war protest marches.
“Harvey didn’t actually ask me to create a flag,” he explains. “Harvey’s whole thing was we needed a logo. In the mid-’70s every corporation had some kind of logo, and so we also wanted one of our own — and the rainbow worked.”
The original Rainbow flag had eight colours to symbolize diversity in the queer community: hot pink (representing sexuality), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), turquoise (magic/art), blue (serenity/harmony) and violet (spirit).
But the eight colours were reduced to six in 1979 because of production considerations. “We actually dyed fabric those [eight] colours for the very first Rainbow flag,” Baker explains, “but when I realized it was going to be a hit, I knew [commercially] that this [painstaking process] could not continue.
“Commercial flags are made out of nylon, and there is a palette of colours that all flags in the world are made from, maybe 25 colours. Pink is not one of them. So then we were down to seven colours. And seven doesn’t really work because it’s not balanced. So I took out the turquoise and left in the primary and secondary colours. Also, if you want the flag to become part of modern iconography, you need postcards and stuff. But in the 1970s, colour printing was insanely expensive.”
The strategy worked, and today the LGBT movement’s Rainbow flag is the world’s best-known version. But Baker has never made any royalties from his Rainbow flag because, he says, it is in the public domain.
“I don’t get royalties,” Gilbert says. “But if I did, it would change everything, and the Rainbow flag would not have the power that it does have today.”