Man who created rainbow flag for gay rights has died

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The man who created the most iconic symbol of gay rights - the rainbow flag - has died. San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy tells ABC7 News reporter Lyanne Melendez that Gilbert Baker died in his sleep in his apartment in Harlem. Sheehy believes a stroke that Baker suffered about two years ago may be related.

RELATED: Creator of gay flag shares story of strength, pride

Activist Cleve Jones posted the news on his Facebook page on Friday. He wrote, "I am heartbroken. My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me forty years of love and friendship. I can't stop crying. I love you forever Gilbert Baker."

Baker was approached by San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk to create something that would symbolize the community and take the place of the 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."

RELATED: Cleve Jones reflects on moving life events depicted in ABC's 'When We Rise'

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

Jones says a memorial will be held Friday night at Market and Castro streets for his dear friend.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement Friday saying that in memory of Baker's contributions to the LGBT community, the rainbow flag will fly at half-staff from his balcony. Here's the statement in its entirety:

"I am saddened to hear of the passing of Gilbert Baker, the creator of the iconic and beloved rainbow flag."

At a time of great uncertainty in the LGBT community, Gilbert's act of sewing together multicolored materials unified and empowered individuals across the country, helping to bring them together under a common cause.

The rainbow flag is more than just a symbol. It is the embodiment of the LGBT community, and it has become a source of solace, comfort and pride for all those who look upon it. Standing side-by-side with Harvey Milk, Gilbert first raised the flag here in San Francisco, but those rainbow colors are now seen around the world.

Gilbert was a trailblazer for LGBT rights, a powerful artist and a true friend to all who knew him. Our thoughts are with his friends and family. He will be missed."

In memory of Gilbert Baker's contributions to the LGBT community, the rainbow flag will fly at half-staff from the Mayor's balcony."

Click here for reporter Lyanne Melendez's full story on Baker and how the rainbow flag came to be.

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.