The Key West community is remembering Gilbert Baker, the creator of the iconic LGBT rainbow flag, who passed last week in New York City.
On June 15, 2003, at that year’s Key West PrideFest, a special 25th anniversary edition of the banner was unfurled on Duval Street. A mile-and-a-quarter in length, it was dubbed the “Sea-to-Sea Rainbow Flag,” because it was stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida Keys county commissioner Heather Carruthers was one of two Key Westers who motivated Baker to choose the island city for the huge flag.
“Gregg McGrady and I met him (Baker) at InterPride earlier that year,” Carruthers remembered Monday. “He told us about the upcoming 25th anniversary of the flag and was looking for some way and a place to commemorate it.
“He thought it would be great to have a rainbow flag span from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico,” she said.
Baker came to Key West and, assisted by others, spent several months sewing the lengthy flag. The massive banner encompassed almost 18,000 linear yards of nylon in the original eight colours.
From his Key West workshop in April 2003, Baker revealed why he chose the island for the 25th anniversary project.
“The thing that sold it for me, in terms of committing to do it, was when I found that the city’s motto was ‘One Human Family’,” Baker said, referring to the motto adopted by the Key West City Commission in 2000 and later by the Florida Keys county commission, to express an accepting attitude toward all people.
Several months later, his multi-ton flag was unfurled down the entire length of Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean — carried by some 3,000 volunteers from every walk of life: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight.
“My dream is a reality today,” Baker said following the flag’s deployment in 2003. “We’ve made a great moment in gay history.
“The rainbow flag represents an idea of equality and justice for everyone,” he added.
Carruthers vividly recalls June 15, 2003, as a special day for many in Key West. The bright sunlight saturated the flag’s eight colors.
“That day that we marched the flag down Duval Street is remembered by every one of the 3,000 who helped,” Carruthers said. “I consider my involvement as one of the primary achievements of my life.”
Carruthers said she would always remember Baker as warm, interesting and an all-welcoming person.
“And obviously, a very creative person,” Carruthers said.
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