World

Creator of iconic rainbow flag, Gilbert Baker, dead at 65

Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco-based activist and artist best known for creating the rainbow flag representing gay rights, has died at the age of 65, his longtime friend announced on social media on Friday.

San Francisco-based gay activist and artist created the flag in 1978

Rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker is pictured in New York City in January 2016. The flag, designed in 1978, became a symbol for the gay community around the world. Baker died Friday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco-based activist and artist best known for creating the rainbow flag representing gay rights, has died at the age of 65, his longtime friend announced on social media on Friday.

"My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert Baker gave the world the rainbow flag, he gave me 40 years of love and friendship," Cleve Jones said on Twitter.

No details were immediately available on the cause of Baker's death or where he died. According to the biography posted on his official website, he had been living in New York City.

Jones also tweeted a photo of Baker with former president Barack Obama, inviting mourners to meet him under a rainbow flag in the Castro district of San Francisco on Friday evening to remember his friend.

In 2015, Baker told CBC Radio's q about how the flag was created as a response to the homophobic pink triangle.

"They had a whole code of emblems that they used to oppress people, and we needed something to answer that," Baker said.

The flag originally had eight colours, each with its own meaning: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity and purple for spirit. Two colours, pink and turquoise, were dropped when demand grew, he said.

Although creating the flag didn't make him a rich man — flags are considered public domain — he said it was "the most important thing I will ever do in my life." 

Gilbert Baker hand-stitched and hand-dyed the very first rainbow flag in San Francisco in 1978. It's come a long way since then! 13:41

Baker, who was born in Kansas in 1951, was stationed in San Francisco in the early 1970s while serving in the U.S. army, at the start of the gay rights movement.

According to the website biography, Baker began making banners for gay rights and anti-war protests, often at the request of Harvey Milk, who would become the first openly gay man elected to public office in California when he won the 1977 race for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk rode under the first rainbow flags made by Baker at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978, just months before the politician was murdered by a former city supervisor.

With files from CBC News