“Rainbow Warrior: My Life in Color” by Gilbert Baker— Our Symbol

Baker, Gilbert. “Rainbow Warrior: My Life in Color”,  Chicago Press Review, 2019.

Our Symbol

Amos Lassen

In 1978, Harvey Milk asked Gilbert Baker to create a unifying symbol for the then growing gay rights movement, and on June 25 of that year, Baker’s Rainbow Flag debuted at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade. Of course, Baker had no idea his creation, his rainbow flag would become an international emblem of liberation and would make permanent his  role in helping to define the modern LGBTQ movement. “Rainbow Warrior” is Baker’s own passionate personal chronicle, from his repressive childhood in 1950s Kansas to a terrible time in the US Army, and finally his arrival in San Francisco, where he blossomed as both a visual artist and social justice activist. His fascinating story brings together the early years of the struggle for LGBTQ rights, when he worked closely with Milk, Cleve Jones, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and all seemed like a dream.

He continued his flag-making, street theater and activism through the Reagan years and the AIDS crisis. In 1994, Baker spearheaded the effort to fabricate a mile-long Rainbow Flag—at the time, the world’s longest—to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City. Gilbert and parade organizers battled with Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the right to carry it up Fifth Avenue, past St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today, the Rainbow Flag, Gilbert Baker’s flag, has become a worldwide symbol of LGBTQ diversity and inclusiveness, and its colors have illuminated landmarks from the White House to the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House and the Tel Aviv Government Office Building.

Gilbert Baker often called himself the “Gay Betsy Ross,” and readers of his colorful, irreverent, and In these pages are  Gilbert himself and his joys, visions, untamed spirit, flashes of  bitchiness, and all of the unvarnished truths of who he and his collaborators were and are. They share his moments of confidence and his times  of  doubt, his search for those to help realize his impossible dreams, and the small moments of success that made all the suffering worthwhile. This is the story of an artist and “an activist’s unyielding, lifelong dedication to a singular creative notion, and his courage to let that creation go, to let it be shared, to let it bend and find new forms in order for it to remain timeless, boundless, and ever inclusive of our growing LGBTQ family.” 

Gilbert Baker brings the history of the Rainbow Flag and of the LGBTQ movement together by making it part of his own story.  “If a sense of urgency and necessity, serendipity, intuition, and talent are the ingredients of great design, this is the autobiography of an accidental design superstar.” 

Baker paved the way for LGBTQ activists around the world and his grand visions as an artist and activist entertained all who knew him. He truly advanced the global LGBTQ movement. In creating the Rainbow Flag, he gave the world an iconic symbol and this was his final gift.

 

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