Designer of the rainbow flag

Born: June 2, 1951;

Died: March 30, 2017

GILBERT Baker, who has died aged 65, was an artist, designer and activist who created the famous rainbow flag which became a symbol of gay rights and protest around the world.

First created in 1978 in San Francisco, the flag has included different colours over the years, but it has always stood for the same things: diversity and inclusion. More recently, it has also become a way for people to show support for gay rights online - after the massacre in the gay nightclub in Orlando, for example, millions of people included the rainbow flag in their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter. The colours of the flag also lit up the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate.

Baker first designed the flag after being encouraged to do so by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Baker had often been asked by friends to create banners for protests and marches and had often used the pink triangle, which was used by the Nazis to identify gay men in concentration camps.

Working with other volunteers, Baker filled rubbish bins with dye at the Gay Community Centre in San Francisco before stitching together eight strips of fabric. Each of the colours had its own special significance: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for peace and purple for spirit.

The flag was then unveiled at a gay pride march on June 25, 1978 in San Francisco and was an immediate success. “I knew instantly when I saw the reaction that it was going to be something," said Baker. "I didn’t know what or how — but I knew.”

Baker was often asked what had inspired the idea of the flag and he sometimes suggested that the Wizard of Oz had been at the back of his mind and in particular the song that Dorothy sings at the start of the film, Over the Rainbow. Not only would Dorothy become a gay icon (with the phrase "friend of Dorothy" become a euphemism for gay) Baker himself grew up in Kansas.

It was not a particularly happy childhood, growing up gay in a conservative community. His parents - his mother was a teacher, his father a lawyer - refused to speak to him for a decade after he came out to them.

In 1970, Baker was drafted in to the US Army as a nurse and was stationed in San Francisco treating veterans of the Vietnam War. But San Francisco was also where Baker could openly express his gay identity.

After receiving an honourable discharge from the army in 1972, Baker began working as an artist and designer and for a time worked for a flag company.

In 1994, he moved to New York and created a mile-long rainbow flag for the gay pride parade, which that year commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, which many consider to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.

He never patented his idea but always relished his creation and what it symbolised for the gay community. For him, it was about taking action, but it was also about offering hope.