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How childhood bullying inspired this Lego VP to design an LGBTQ set

Lego will start selling a rainbow-colored set in honor of Pride Month on June 1.

How childhood bullying inspired this Lego VP to design an LGBTQ set
[Photo: Lego]
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LGBTQ toys are all the rage. Potato Head family sets feature gay and lesbian couples on the box. Barbie wears “love wins” T-shirts along with her girlfriend.

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Now Lego wants in on it. The Scandinavian toy brand has unveiled an LGBTQ-themed set called “Everyone Is Awesome.” It goes on sale June 1, the first day of Pride Month. Rather than depicting LGBTQ individuals or relationships, the toy centers around the 11 colors of the Pride flag, with bricks and figures in monochromatic colors. It’s a symbolic gesture of support for the LGBTQ community.

According to Matthew Ashton, Lego’s VP of design, the company had wanted to create a product celebrating the LGBTQ community. Ashton had previously built a model similar to the Everyone Is Awesome set to decorate his desk and thought the design might work well for this project. He says the brand deliberately included black and brown, to reflect the struggles of LBGTQ people of color, along with the pink, white, and blue colors of the transgender flag.

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Ashton himself faced challenges growing up as an LGBTQ kid. He experienced bullying from other children and adults trying to turn him into a person he was not. “I was quite effeminate as a kid and was constantly being told to man up, toughen up,” he says in a video. “In all honesty, I think those adults were doing that to protect me. But hearing that made me retreat into myself a bit.”

His goal with this set is to show Lego’s support of the LGBTQ community. “If I’d had somebody alongside me that gave me something like this, saying this is a token of how much you mean to me and I’m there for you, something like that would have meant so much to me,” he says.

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Will a set such as this help kids who feel marginalized because of their gender or sexual orientation? Probably not. Lego says the toy is designed for adults 18 and older. More broadly, the characters aren’t designed to encourage users to explore LGBTQ relationships or individuals, the way other toys have. Take the Potato Head toys, for instance. In February, the brand released a redesigned set that allows kids to create families with two moms or two dads, along with more traditional straight families, helping to normalize LGBTQ families. With this Lego set, Ashton makes the case that users can play around with the character’s gender, since they are not predetermined, but that is true of many Lego mini-figures.

The Lego set fits into a broader trend of major brands using Pride Month to sell rainbow-colored merchandise to the LGBTQ community, which has a buying power of $830 billion. These days, companies from Bloomingdale’s to Target have a Pride section; even McDonald’s trots out rainbow french-fry boxes for the month. While corporate support of the LBGTQ community can help normalize inclusion, some critics point out that these expressions don’t do much to offer tangible support. It would be more meaningful, for example, if these companies helped LGBTQ individuals who can’t afford HIV medication or have been kicked out of their homes by their families.

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While the Everyone Is Awesome set is not going to solve the entrenched problems of the LGBTQ community, it’s a fun addition to the Pride merchandise out there, especially for die-hard Lego fans. The set costs $34.99, and it will be available online and at Lego stores.

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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