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Gilbert Baker, iconic designer of the Pride flag, was a misunderstood ‘free spirit’ bullied for his sexuality

Lily Wakefield June 14, 2020
Pride Flag Creator Gilbert Baker bullying

Pride Flag Creator Gilbert Baker poses at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on January 7, 2016 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

Gilbert Baker, the iconic designer responsible for the LGBT+ Pride flag, was bullied at school for being gay “but set the stage way before it was ever a norm”, his old classmates have said.

Baker was born in Chanute, Kansas, in 1951, and was part of the Parsons High School’s class of 1969.

His small town teen years were not happy ones, and he escaped Kansas as soon as he could, moving to San Francisco and eventually settling in New York.

When his class joined together in late 2019 for their 50th reunion, according to Wichita Public Radio, they pulled out their old yearbooks and discussed their memories of Baker, who passed away in 2017,

They described him as “into the arts”, “a snappy dresser” and “a personality unto himself”.

Gilbert Baker was bullied because he was gay.

While Baker was unusual among his peers, this made him a target.

One of his classmates, Debbie Sailsbury Burke, said: “This may not be etiquette, but in ’69, we didn’t know what gay was. So Gilbert was just different.

“People would make fun of him because he was different, but he set the stage way before it was ever a norm.”

She added: “At our lunch table, the guys, the jocks, would come by with their trays and they would slap him in the back of the head.

I mean some of them were cruel to him. I always felt sorry for him.

Another classmate, Sandy Salyer, said she remembers the gay icon doing cartwheels at school, and reminisced on when she first read an interview with Baker on his experience of bullying.

She said: “When I heard that it broke my heart. We were just innocent and didn’t understand what a gay person was.

“He was a free spirit, loving life… I’m just so proud of what he did and the movement he was part of.”

Beginning to tear up, Sayler added: “I’m really sorry people treated him that way.”

Gilbert Baker
Participants march during a Flag Day ‘Raise the Rainbow’ rally, June 14, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

Gilbert Baker designed the LGBT+ Pride flag in 1977.

The rainbow Pride flag has become a symbol for the LGBT+ community across the globe.

The original designed by Gilbert Baker in 1977 had eight stripes, but was changed to the six-stripe version we are all familiar with because of a shortage of pink and turquoise fabric.

Baker explained that each colour in his flag represented something different; pink was for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity and purple for the spirit.

He told ABC7 news in 1972: “I like to think of those elements as in every person, everyone shares that. Flags say something. You put a rainbow flag on your windshield and you’re saying something.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Baker’s design has been repurposed by many to celebrate the NHS.

The trend was picked up by online sellers, who began selling “thank you NHS flags” with the same six-colour rainbow designed by Baker that has represented LGBT+ Pride for more than four decades.

Elsewhere, Plymouth Citybus suffered criticism from the LGBT+ community after it announced it had altered its rainbow Pride bus, printing the words “thank you NHS and key workers” on the side.

Recently, a queer teen started a petition against the rainbow being used as an NHS sigil, which has now garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

More: bullying, Chanute, gilbert baker, Kansas, Parson's high school, pride flag, rainbow flag

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