EXCERPT FROM RAINBOW WARRIOR
Sylvester was a big black drag queen who had a voice to rival Aretha Franklin. He had been doing a Billie Holiday act since the days of the Cockettes in 1970, and I had seen him in their shows. Then he put together a rock and roll band called the Hot Band and cut a couple of records for the fledgling Fantasy Recordings label in Berkeley. Then suddenly Sylvester changed and went Disco. He took the Gay community nationwide by storm. He was an original. Whenever Sylvester sang it was always special, whether it was in a little neighborhood bar for some afternoon jazz, or on the full stage lit up, wearing a fabulous costume. Incredible.
One day I went downtown to Dance Art, a fabric and notion shop that catered to the theater world in San Francisco. You went there to buy the latest in hot pink stretch sequin and matching feather boas. I had ordered up some blood-of-Jesus red velvet trim. The funky old store with its impeccably mannered staff supplied the local Churches with fancy brocades and I wanted the real thing for a new look at the Parade. I surveyed all the beautiful trims, everything seemed so expensive.
Sylvester entered through the front door with the afternoon sun, and the building shadows, making a perfect ray of light on his entrance. He was wearing a white mink coat that was flawless and obviously cost some big bucks. Everyone oohed and ahhed. He let us all take turns trying it on. We went crazy for the touch of mink, but Sylvester feigned nonchalance about it. To him it was just another prop, a white mink to throw off in the follow spot. He wanted to make something to go with the fur. Sylvester was lusting for the brown and gold sequined silk chiffon, he was looking trim and wanted to show some skin.
The gown he was creating would take many yards of cloth costing thousands. Everyone in the store was waiting to hear where he planned to wear such a glamorous ensemble. He was coy. He paid cash, all large bills. Then he swam his arms, that were covered with gold bracelets up to the elbows, into the cloud of white mink. Sylvester collected his packages and walked toward the door hitting just that last moment of perfect light breaking through the beveled glass windows as if it were a cue from a grip high above an invisible stage. He waited until everyone was looking at him and had their full attention. He sang full voice “Everybody is a star” and said I’ll see you at the Opera House.”
Today, the Rainbow Flag has become a worldwide symbol of LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusiveness, and its rainbow hues have illuminated landmarks from the White House to the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House. Gilbert Baker often called himself the “Gay Betsy Ross,” and readers of his colorful, irreverent and deeply personal memoir will find it difficult to disagree.