Gilbert Baker collection
Finding aid created by GLBT Historical Society staff using RecordEXPRESS
GLBT Historical Society2023
989 Market Street, Lower Level
San Francisco, California 94103
Title: Gilbert Baker collection
Dates: Circa 1950s-2017, bulk 1978-2017
Collection Number: 2017-18
Creator/Collector: Baker, Gilbert
Extent: 53 linear feet (11 cartons, 1 small oversize box, 1 medium oversize box, 3 large oversize boxes, 7 garment boxes, a large plastic box, and several pieces of oversize art)Online items available
Repository: GLBT Historical Society
San Francisco, California 94103
Abstract: Gilbert Baker was an artist, drag queen, and Sister of Perpetual Indulgence who played the central role in the 1978 creation of the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag. Baker’s collection consists largely of textiles, sewing supplies, art, and audiovisual materials, along with a small number of documents.
Language of Material: English
Collection is open for research.
Copyright to material has not been transferred to the GLBT Historical Society. All requests for reproductions and/or permission to publish or quote from material must be submitted in writing to the GLBT Historical Society Archivist. Permission for reproductions and/or permission to publish or quote from material is given on behalf of the GLBT Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.
[Identification of item]. Gilbert Baker collection. Collection Number: 2017-18. GLBT Historical Society
Gift of Ardonna Baker Cook in March 2018 with additions by the Gilbert Baker Foundation and Charles Beal in 2020 and 2021 and David Bach in January 2022.
Gilbert Baker was an artist, drag queen, and Sister of Perpetual Indulgence who played the central role in the 1978 creation of the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag. Born in Kansas in 1951, Baker was drafted into the U.S. Army as a young man. He was stationed in San Francisco as a medic, remained in the city after his honorable discharge in 1972, and became a drag queen as well as an anti-war and pro-cannabis activist. In 1978, Baker and a team of volunteers dyed and sewed the first rainbow flags for San Francisco Gay Freedom Day, as Pride was then known. The original flags had eight colors, each one standing for a different aspect of queer experience: sex, life, healing, the sun, nature, art and magic, serenity, and the spirit. Later versions of the flag would drop the pink and turquoise stripes, leading to the six-color version most commonly seen today. Baker would spend much of the rest of his career exploring flag imagery, sewing Pride flags for parades (some over a mile long) and creating drag costumes that riffed on the American flag, the Statue of Liberty, and the persona of Betsy Ross. In 1981, Baker became a novice with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a nondenominational order of queer nuns. The Sisters protested homophobia, distributed safe sex educational materials, and functioned as community and spiritual leaders in tongue-in-cheek drag. As Sister Chanel 2001, Baker was often seen with his friend and fellow Sister, Gilbert Block (Sadie, Sadie the Rabbi Lady). He later left the group after a dispute over his unapproved use of the Sister Chanel persona for a commercial greeting card, but he continues to be associated with the Sisters in popular memory. As time passed, Baker increasingly turned his attention to personal protests against homophobic figures, such as his “Pink Jesus” performance piece at the 1990 San Francisco Pride parade (protesting Jesse Helms’ attempts to defund the National Endowment for the Arts) and the reimagined concentration camp uniforms he created to protest the election of Donald Trump. Baker moved from San Francisco to New York in 1994, and died there in 2017.
Baker’s collection consists largely of textiles, sewing supplies, art, and audiovisual materials, along with a small number of documents. It is broken into six series. Series 1 contains documents, including autobiographical fragments, graphics, books inscribed to Baker, and greeting cards. Series 2 contains photographs. Series 3 collects non-photographic audiovisual materials in a variety of formats, including extensive biographical documentation of Baker. Series 4 collects Baker’s sewing supplies – fabric scraps, notions, patterns, half-completed projects, and two sewing machines – while Series 5 contains textiles, clothing, and drag, most of it made or modified by Baker. Series 6 contains art and artifacts, including paintings by Baker, flag-themed art and recreations of the 1978 flag, scrapbooks, and a small amount of personal memorabilia.
San Francisco Bay Area (Calif.)
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence