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Q&A with rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker

The artist talks about Pride plans, trans symbols and gay sweaters

Since its creation in 1979 by Gilbert Baker, the rainbow flag has become a universal symbol for LGBT folk. Credit: Submitted

Gilbert Baker is the proud daddy (or mommy, depending on his mood) of the rainbow flag. Since its birth in 1979, the flag has become a universal symbol. He’s designed special versions for various places and events. He’s seen giant rainbow flags carried by thousands of people.

Baker, whose life has been as eventful as that of the flag he designed, will fly into Ottawa on a gust of parental conceit to give a talk at The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity’s (CCGSD) Pride Boat Cruise, an almost two hour excursion on the Ottawa River on Aug 20, 2015.

Daily Xtra spoke on the phone with Baker in this edited and condensed interview.

 

Daily Xtra: How do you feel now that the flag has become so ubiquitous?

Gilbert Baker: I’m amazed by the life it’s had. It’s something really, very simple, but with an amazing amount of work — 40 years of work on it, if you can possibly imagine. It’s amazing. It blows my mind more than anybody’s.

Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of trans people are rejecting the rainbow flag. What do you think about this?

They diss it. I don’t like that. I like the trans flag. I understand they need their own identity . . . But they kind of diss [the rainbow flag]. They’re like, “wait a minute, this is our flag, and we’re not part of your flag,” and I’m like, “Well, huh?” Are we the LGBT community, or are you breaking off to be something else? Because I embrace their sexuality and their sexual identity within the context of a larger human sexuality. They’re part of the program, or they’re not. And I worry that the separatism that’s evolving in the trans community is really going to turn people off.

We are all part of the rainbow, and the reason the rainbow [flag] has worked so well is because it represents all of us. It’s all of the colours. The whole point of it is that it’s a symbol that is about the human right to a free sexuality. It’s about sexuality. It’s about human sexuality. And it’s about that as a human right. Period. For everybody.

Capital Pride designed a new logo. They combined all the little flags into a 30-colour rainbow flag. What do you think of that?

I’m sure it must be interesting. There are flags and there [are] flags. There are flags about art, and there are flags about meaning. I’m a total lover of flags — I’m a true vexillophile. I haven’t seen it, but, I mean, I get it. I understand it. But as art, I’m not sure.

I wanted to get your opinion on The Gay Sweater. The CCGSD made it. It’s a cardigan made from the hair of a lot of queer people. Sort of to point to the absurdity of people calling objects gay and using the word “gay” as an insult.

Wait a minute, it’s made from human hair? I’m reminded more and more of The Addams Family every minute. I’ll have to check it out. Let me just say, it sounds a little weird. But I’ve seen art made with human hair before — I’ve seen some incredible art made with human hair — so, yes, I’ll have to check it out.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’ll be fun to be [at Capital Pride]. I’m actually feeling very liberated this year . . . life is a struggle. [Living in] New York is not easy. I’m lucky I have an amazing life. I’m an art lover and an art maker, and this year my art was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York — a flag for their permanent collection — which is a huge recognition and validation of basically my whole life.

The rainbow flag is one of the most successful symbols in history, so it’s worthy of being celebrated . . . And I’m hoping to [tell] the story of the rainbow flag, with the awesome photographs from around the world of the rainbow flag. From being torn from the hands of protesters in Russia. From being a mile long in Key West. From being a feature at gay weddings. So I want to spend my time telling the story — of course, I’m writing a book — and hopefully making [future] exhibitions and getting it out there.