Pride Honoree Gilbert Baker Hates the Word "Pride"

Categories: LGBT
Thumbnail image for Castro rainbows Jim Herd.jpg
Jim Herd
What's in a name?
This weekend, the winner of San Francisco Pride's Gilbert Baker Pride Founders Award will be Gilbert Baker. Ulysses S. Grant is buried in Grant's tomb. And Francisco Franco is still dead.

Even if you're not familiar with Baker, you're definitely familiar with his work. In fact, it's illustrating this story: Baker, now 60, created the rainbow flag -- now an international LGBT symbol. It came from humble origins. As SF Weekly recounted in a May 2011 cover story, Baker in 1978 petitioned for $1,000 from the parade committee of what was then called "Gay Freedom Day" to create two 30-by-60-foot rainbow flags. When asked if the original flags were still waving somewhere, Baker laughed. No, they were built fast and cheap out of the most inexpensive materials. The historic flags were history within two weeks.

So, while Baker is a worthy Pride honoree, he has some interesting thoughts about "pride." When it comes to semantics -- and the rationale behind it -- he's no fan of the word now attached to his eponymous award.

"I hate the word 'pride,'" he told SF Weekly last year. 

"It drives me crazy [the title of the movement and its festival] went from liberation and freedom to pride," he continued. "Pride, as a word, has a double edge. It has two meanings -- and one is pretty negative. It never really fit me. I'm not proud I'm gay. I am gay. It's just who I am. They turned liberation and freedom into a product. It's hard for corporations to embrace something like liberation and freedom."

Gilbert Baker.jpg
Gilbert Baker
In the 34 years since he created his flags, Pride celebrations in San Francisco and elsewhere have grown from informal affairs into corporate mega-events. Pride's internal tabulations claimed it brought $80 million to $100 million into the city and its businesses. The festival generates hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city's nonprofits, which provide its backbone and labor force. In the eyes of the city, Pride is too big to to fail.

When he learned he would be the initial recipient of the award bearing his name, Baker was surprised. "I caused so much trouble in that town," he told the Bay Area Reporter. "It's really nice that people would recognize my work."

He's obviously come to terms with the festival's name -- and what it stands for. But, as he told the Weekly last year, if he had his druthers, he'd still change things.

"That word is so icky!" he said

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