The life of Gilbert Baker—the "gay Betsy Ross" and creator of the rainbow flag who passed away at 65 earlier this year—will be celebrated at a memorial at the Castro Theatre on Thursday.
Back in 1978, Baker created the rainbow flag, now considered a symbol for LGBT equality worldwide. The flag was first stitched and created at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street with the help of 30 volunteers, then—in a scene that was depicted in the recent ABC miniseries When We Rise—raised at Civic Center. More recently, Baker's life was also honored as a Google Doodle.
Many in the LGBT community are still mourning his unexpected death. He was remembered by his friends as a kind, generous and modest man who felt that the Rainbow Flag was greater than himself.
"Very few people come up with an idea that touches millions of people," said longtime gay activist Cleve Jones, who was close friends with Baker for forty years. "His legacy is this gift that has meant so much to so many people across the planet. I take comfort in the fact that he was happy towards the end of his life."
Baker's memorial is being organized by longtime gay activists and couple Tom Taylor and Dr. Jerome Goldstein, who knew Baker for decades. The flag creator even co-officiated the couple's wedding on their fortieth anniversary.
"Gilbert and I worked on different projects over the years," Taylor recalled. "We did a gay history exhibit that was going to go under the City Hall dome during Mayor Feinstein's administration. It was actually displayed on the Van Ness side of the building, not quite under the dome."
Taylor noted that wherever the Rainbow Flag flies, including in other countries, it is a symbol that LGBT people have rights. "He invented a tool which represents a group of people who deserves their rights," Taylor said. "We are at the bottom of the list of people who get their rights."
At the memorial, an extensive video presentation of Baker's life will be broadcasted. The Thrillpeddlers and the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus will perform, with cabaret singer Connie Champagne singing "Over the Rainbow."
The event will also feature District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who represents the Castro, State Senator Scott Wiener, and former State Senator Mark Leno, who knew Baker.
Goldstein and Taylor said they consider Baker to be part of their family. "This is not an event for political grandstanding," Goldstein said. "This is about Gilbert. People know the flag but they don't know Gilbert's name. So many businesses have been enriched because the Rainbow Flag flies outside their door."
Although admission is free, organizers request that attendees register at Eventbrite, as seating is limited. The community is also asked to consider donating to the Gilbert Baker Fund to continue his legacy and advocacy.
Never miss a story.
Subscribe today to get Hoodline delivered straight to your inbox.