La vida local

Rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker reflects on colorful life


Kansas-born Gilbert Baker, who created the iconic gay rainbow flag in 1978, says he’s often asked if he’s a “friend of Dorothy.”

“I say, ‘Honey, I am Dorothy,” laughs Baker, who confesses that although “it’s a convenient analogy,” Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz anthem Over the Rainbow did influence him a bit when he sewed his first pride flag.

“It works because the song is beautiful,” Baker says. “The lyrics are about the longing to be free.”

Baker — who 10 years ago unfurled the world’s largest rainbow flag (1.25 miles long) along Duval Street in Key West — visits Miami Beach for the first time this week. He’ll speak to LGBT activists and allies Thursday night at the city’s Botanical Garden, 2000 Convention Center Dr. He’ll be interviewed for an upcoming documentary by independent filmmaker Joe Cardona and the Miami Herald about singer Anita Bryant and South Florida’s role in the gay rights movement.

“Anita Bryant is an important figure in gay history because she enraged a generation of people who got active,” Baker says.

Bryant, spokeswoman for Florida orange juice, led a successful campaign in 1977 to repeal Miami-Dade County’s original gay-rights ordinance. A year later, Baker debuted his first rainbow flag during gay pride in San Francisco.

“We took the gay pride parade with 50,000 people to 500,000,” says Baker, now 62. “Anita Bryant had the effect of galvanizing the whole gay movement. She was somebody whom everybody could hate. She was easy to hate.”

Baker lived “his Kansas nightmare” until he got drafted in 1970 and sent to San Francisco as an Army medic nurse during the Vietnam war. Until then, he didn’t know anyone else who was gay.

“[Gay] people were psychopaths, criminals. I was afraid my family would lock me up and give me electroshock,” he says. “I was a screaming queen.”

Coming out to his mother and father was hard. “My parents and I didn’t speak for 10 years. It took a long time to rebuild that relationship,” he says.

After an honorable discharge in 1972, Baker stayed in San Francisco and became an artist.

“I love to sew and fashion. Everything with fabric. That’s my medium,” he says.

He became “the banner guy” in gay politics. “That’s how I began to meet people like Harvey Milk.”

Baker, who gets no royalties for the rainbow flag, is still political. He supports a boycott of Russian products because of anti-gay laws recently passed there.

“In the case of Russian vodka, it’s very similar to the [1977] orange juice boycott,” he says. “It had a little effect on Florida orange juice [sales]. Just enough for people to take it seriously. Enough for Florida orange juice to ditch Anita Bryant.”

The event, 6-8 p.m., is free.


Read more People stories from the Miami Herald

  • Celebrity birthdays on Aug 20

    Singer Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) is 66. Country singer Rudy Gatlin is 62. Singer-songwriter John Hiatt is 62. Actor-director Peter Horton is 61. Actress Joan Allen is 58. Rock singer Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit) is 44. Actor Misha Collins is 40. Actor Andrew Garfield is 31. Actor Brant Daugherty (“Pretty Little Liars”) is 29. Singer Demi Lovato is 22.

  • Celebrity roundup

    Taylor Swift brushes off country roots with pop album; Kevin Hart engaged; Cindy Crawford removes kids from school due to toxins

    Taylor Swift is saying goodbye to country music for now: The singer says she’s releasing her first full-length pop album on Oct. 27. She revealed in a livestream via Yahoo! that 1989, named for her birth year, is her “first documented official pop album.”

  • The fashion scene

    Style Mafia founder Simonett Pereira: She’s the boss lady

    There’s a new mob boss in the 305. The name? Style Mafia — and out-of-the-box fashion is the game. The brainchild of 23-year-old Simonett Pereira, the Miami-gal-by-way-of-Venezuela’s collection is sold online and in her Wynwood-based showroom.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category