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San Francisco creator of gay flag shares story of strength, pride

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As the gay community was rising, then activist Harvey Milk saw the need to create something that would symbolize that community. Milk approached a young artist and sewer from Kansas to fulfill his message of hope. (KGO-TV)

As the gay community was rising, then activist Harvey Milk saw the need to create something that would symbolize that community. Milk approached a young artist and sewer from Kansas to fulfill his message of hope.

The rainbow flag started out as a symbol of pride for the gay community. The journey to create it started in 1972, when a young Gilbert Baker took up sewing after settling in San Francisco.

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"I had to look like David Bowie and Mick Jagger every single moment of my life, but I had no money," said Baker. "I had to learn how to sew and to be able to express myself."

It was Milk who asked Baker to create something that would take the place of the dreadful pink triangle used decades ago by the Nazis to identify homosexuals.

Baker knew it had to be a flag. "Flags are about power," he said. "Flags say something. You put a rainbow flag on your windshield and you're saying something."

Milk paid $1,000 for Baker's work, which started in 1978.

"Organic, hand-dyed, big mess -- cotton. Oh my God, you don't even want to know," he said. "Stitch, stitch, stitch on a little Singer. It's midnight you know."

Each color of the rainbow flag stands for something. "Pink is for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun," Baker told ABC7 News. "Green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity and purple for the spirit. I like to think of those elements as in every person, everyone shares that."

In 1994, New York City was remembering the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot. Baker created a mile-long rainbow flag carried by 5,000 people.

Baker now wonders what to do with it. "I have a mile-long flag, at the last minute I cut it up with scissors and handed it off to people," he said. "I would say you're from London take this to London, Cuba, or Hong Kong and that's how it really spread internationally."

In 1997, one of his greatest achievements was getting the city of San Francisco to permanently fly it in the predominately gay Castro District.

Another memorable moment for Baker was meeting then president Barack Obama.

As an artist today, his creations always have a social message. Baker continues to work on the flag and its message of diversity.

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Baker has never called his creation "his flag." He's quick to remind us that it's "our flag."

Click here for more stories on the ABC mini-series "When We Rise."

Related Topics:
societywhen we risegay rightslgbtgayhistoryflagsSan Francisco
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