When Gilbert Baker picked up needle and thread in 1978, he was looking to create a positive and celebratory symbol that would replace the oppression represented by the Nazi pink triangle during World War II.
While making banners for marches and protests for San Francisco’s gay community, Baker created the iconic rainbow flag, which has endured for four decades as a symbol of pride, activism and freedom for the LGBTQ community worldwide. Google returned the favor Friday with a colorful, animated Doodle celebrating Baker’s contribution on what would have been his 66th birthday.
“It came from such a horrible place of murder and Holocaust and Hitler,” Baker said during a 2015 interview with the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. “We needed something beautiful, something from us. 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.”
The original rainbow flag consisted of eight colored bars running horizontally, representing the diversity of the gay community. It was constructed by about 30 volunteers in the attic of the Gay Community Center in San Francisco who hand-dyed and sewed together more than 1,000 yards of cotton.
The flags debuted at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978, and the design stuck. Two colors — turquoise and pink — were dropped due to production issues.
Born and raised in Kansas, Baker arrived in San Francisco in the early 1970s while serving in the US Army. In San Francisco, he found a place of acceptance among the increasingly visible gay community.
During this time there, he became friends with Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to hold public office in the US. When Milk’s story was turned into a bio-pic in 2008, Baker re-created his original flag for the Academy Award-winning movie.