The continuance of Fairfield University’s annual celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) month was held on October 21st in the Creative Life commons where Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag, spoke to a crowded yet cozy audience.
Baker spoke about his life growing up in Kansas where he felt like an outsider. His escape was art and culture and he used them both to create his own little world he could survive in until he moved to San Francisco. There, he befriended Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, who later came to be his very close friend and confidant. Milk inspired Baker, often pushing him to make signs and banners for next-day marches which he gladly produced thanks to his sewing hobby.
This sewing hobby transformed quickly into Baker’s career as a vexillographer. He sees flags as being the ‘soul of movements,’ which he proved when he created the rainbow flag that debuted in the 1978 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Much after choosing rainbow colors for the flag, Baker discovered that the rainbow is the covenant between God and all living creatures, as stated in the Bible, which gave his flag new meaning. The 5,000 mini-flags that were produced for the parade were sold out in one hour, proving that the flag’s initial importance and power was underestimated. After seeing what happened at the parade, Baker took his idea to the Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco to produce them at a much larger scale.
These flags were produced and sold worldwide. In 1994, Baker sat down in his room with his sewing machine and began to produce the then biggest flag in the world in memoriam of the 15th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots – to many a defining time that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the U.S. The flag was made from 10,000 yards of fabric, measured 1-mile long, and weighed 8,000 pounds. This gigantic piece of artwork was held up by members of the LGBT society on the streets of San Francisco before Baker ran through it with scissors, cutting pieces which were later given out and taken to different parts of the world.
Not only did Baker inspire us through the tales of his life and accomplishments, but also through his words and message which was very similar to that of Milk’s. A great, unsung hero of the LGBT movement, Baker believes that all LGBT members share the same story. According to Baker, “There is one soul job that the LGBT society has: to change the world, and not by using politics, but by using art and culture.” As a group, the LGBT community has been the last to claim their place in society, says Baker, and even though the road is still rocky today, he firmly believes that they are on the cusp of finally gaining acceptance and being embraced by the rest of society.
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