Inclusivity Is Awesome! A Chat With Matthew Ashton, The 'Everyone Is Awesome' Set Designer.


With the majority supporting a LEGO LGBTQIA+ set, a lot of fans were upset about it. This article gives insight to the Gayfol community, plus we chat to set designer Matthew Ashton.


Inclusivity is awesome!

The arrival of LEGO's new “Everyone is Awesome” set has caused a bit of a frenzy amongst my fellow #Gayfols. We have often wondered where the company sits on LGBTQIA+ representation. Finally having an official nod of approval means quite a bit, as there's a considerable number of gayfols out there who create LGBTQIA+ works and have wondered if the group has taken notice.


It's been interesting reading some of the other reviews as many hit a wall. Often commenting that they are straight and while they get the intentions of the piece and are supportive of it, the deeper meanings fall flat.


So this article will hopefully explain some things.


We knew going into this that the set would be extremely polarizing, and would spark a debate.

The Colours!

The set is broadly based on what is known as the Progress Pride Flag. This stems from the city of Pittsburg adding black and brown to the traditional Pride Flag to acknowledge people of colour. Artist Daniel Quasar then combined these colours with the transgender flag in an arrow shape to promote progress.


And regarding the original meanings of the other colours - Red = Life, Orange = Healing, Yellow = Sunlight, Green = Nature, Turquoise = Magic/Art


Is This Just A Cash-in?

Many in the LGBTIQA+ community somewhat dread the incoming glut of corporate pride, where companies switch out to rainbow logos, in what many perceive as a shallow nod to the scene for one month only. I think TLG is doing something deeper here. As this set isn't just appearing for one month, despite debuting during Pride month. There is clearly thought behind this which we will go into with Matthew Ashton shortly. TLG has done a great job at explaining their motives and the potential this set has with the message of "Everyone Is Awesome" is much stronger than if the group just turned the logo rainbow for a month. The enthusiastic response from this set proves that people are seeing this as a way to break the ice at work, or to help support a person who is finding their own identity. Many have chosen to remix the set, regardless of their orientation, proving that you don't have to be on the LGBTIQ+ scene to appreciate this.

I caught up with the designer Matthew Ashton and picked his brains about the creation of this set.


We were interested in the origins of the model starting off on your desk. What changed during development and were there any groups consulted with regarding the final look?

There were very few changes that were made between my initial ‘sketch’ model which I built for my desk, and the final version released to the world. I had a very clear picture in my head of what I wanted the build to look like from the get-go. So when I was building the first draft I trawled through our ‘wig-stock’ in our element library to select the perfect hairstyles for the line-up. Most of the wigs were only available in more ‘natural’ hair colours at that point. So that meant a trip to the spray booth, to spray paint them into an array of rainbow colours. When it came to refining the final model, I only really altered the inner structure of the wall, filled in the missing gaps under the bow elements at the top, and of course, the spray-painted wigs, were replaced by official parts moulded in the correct LEGO colours.

Original design by Matthew Ashton


I was curious about LEGO’s past history of inclusiveness. Digging around I did find an old brochure from the 70s that suggested parents let girls build spaceships and boys build dollhouses. Encouraging non-gender roles in building has been a core of TLG for decades.


TLG’s acceptance of LGBTIQA+ groups has been subtle, with things like the bride and groom Headz being able to be brought separately. What lessons from the past have been used with creating this set and the approach to the LGBTIQA+ demographic? And why the bold move forward?

Of course, there are a lot of valuable lessons we can and have learned from the past, and I even use my own personal childhood experiences of how I played with LEGO sets, and what the brand meant to me back then, to influence the way I think and design at the LEGO Group. So we do look to bring our overall, long-term values into the sets and experiences we create, and this is definitely a high priority moving forward.

It’s also incredibly important that we look at the here and now, and do what we can to encourage and inspire the kids and fans of today to create a brighter future. So we are trying to tackle that through our products, but also through our brand communication like our ‘Rebuild the world’ campaigns.

When it comes to LGBTQIA+ representation, one of our first major steps in this area, was attending London Pride back in 2019, where we created a LEGO play area in the family zone, for kids and families to take part in building activities like creating Minifigure pride parades etc.

London Pride was the first place the banner ‘Everyone is Awesome’ was used. Since then there have been lots of discussions internally around the different ways we could help inspire consumers through valuable messages of empathy, tolerance, understanding and seeing the best in people despite their differences. These discussions happened to coincide with me actually creating a model for my own desk at work, so I presented this rainbow-inspired piece to management, saying that I thought I had the perfect product idea to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ Community.

They loved it and gave me the go-ahead to get it launched as an actual product. This felt exactly the right time to do this, as we have been living in a world that has been quite divided and upsetting for quite a few years now, so sending out a set that could spread a little LEGO love would hopefully make a difference.


The Glampire has a bit of a cult gay following amongst my friends. Were you involved in its creation? Balthazar??? From The LEGO Movie 2??? Of course, I was involved, did you really need to ask? But I can’t take all the credit - he was a real team effort! I helped out art directing his facial decorations, and also did some initial sketches on his crystal wig. The first roughs we received from the studio were a little ‘unkempt’ shall we say, and I was like ‘No Glampire would have hair like that!’ so I worked a little magic with our element designers to create his perfect crystalline quaff!

The Minifigures are quite the bunch. Were there any inspirations for their looks and hairstyles? Plus, do you have a favourite? I cherry-picked the wigs from our stock to be as diverse as possible, obviously using textured hair to represent the POC in the line-up. A few hairstyles that are a little androgynous that don’t necessarily look gender-specific, and then of course I had to add in the purple bee-hive, the most voluminous wig we have, to portray a fabulous drag queen. Now I am looking at them again, I’ve realized I did the initial sketches of the majority of them when they were originally designed. Getting a decent selection of more stylish wigs in the LEGO portfolio has been a bit of a passion/pet project for me for many years now.

I don’t know if I have a particular favourite, but the yellow bowl cut (originally designed for Will from LEGO Stranger Things) has a special place in my heart. As any child of the ’80s, I may have owned that look at some point. I also love the orange 50’s Rocker Billy girl, ponytail wig, originally used on the Diner Waitress from Minifigure collectibles, and of course the latest addition to the line-up the impressively quiffed wig on the blue character. More to follow on that one.


For those who feel seen, recognized and represented through the set, then hopefully the positive impact from that will be much longer-lasting.

We knew going into this that the set would be extremely polarizing, and would spark a debate. But these are conversations that we feel are important for people to have. So we decided the best way to tackle this was to allow people to be outspoken, and we would take any criticisms on the chin. For me personally, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and some pointed comments have been quite personal and have aimed to be hurtful to me directly. But at the end of the day, those comments have been completely overshadowed by the overwhelming outpouring of love, appreciation and pride for the set. I know that the trolls and keyboard warriors, may get angry and write something nasty in a split second and then probably completely forget about it. But for those who feel seen, recognized and represented through the set, then hopefully the positive impact from that will be much longer-lasting.


Sadly homosexuality is still illegal in quite a few countries, will this set not be available in certain territories as a result?

Of flaircourse, there are many countries where homosexuality is forbidden, and there are laws around selling products like this in certain regions. So we have aimed to do our best to release this item in as many countries as we possibly can. We want to push the boundaries, break down taboos and barriers, where we can. I can see this set being incredibly important in helping someone to understand who they are as a person. Is this the start of a greater LGBTIQA+ representation from TLG?

We have taken this step now and we won’t be turning back. We at the LEGO Group feel that everyone has the right to play, be creative and express themselves. So we are putting more and more effort into creating products that will allow everyone to feel more included, so everyone feels invited to join the fun.


I’m incredibly proud of the impact this little set is having, and we want to make sure this journey doesn’t end here.

I can’t talk about any specific future projects or endeavours as it's all top secret, but as a brand, we aim to continue to keep moving the needle on topics like this. I have received so many incredible, heartfelt messages from so many people saying how this set has helped them. An uncle has bought it for his niece who lives on the other side of the world, who will soon be transitioning to become his nephew, he wanted to let them know he is thinking about them and support them despite the distance. Kids have bought it for their LGBTQ+ parents, families have built the set together, so they can have conversations with younger kids on how to be good friends with everyone no matter how different they are. I’m incredibly proud of the impact this little set is having, and we want to make sure this journey doesn’t end here.


The set's reception has been incredibly positive and has inspired several remixes such as Batman, cars and I’ve personally done a few representing different community flags and one with brick separators.


How have you felt seeing your creation get assorted remixes? Do you have any personal favourites?

It’s been wonderful to see the creativity that has been put into reinterpreting the set in new awesome ways. Fans have really added their own personal touch, passion and flair to the original model to make it their own, which is amazing and so inspiring!

I can’t possibly pick a favourite, as there have been so many amazing ones to choose from…yours included! ;) There have also been some particularly adorable stop motion videos, one where a Minifigure opens the box with some little scissors and then gets the rest of the Minifigure gang to help him build the set together! So cute!



A massive thanks to Matthew for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions.

If you are interested in reading more I do recommend you read Matthew's statement about the set on the LEGO website.


For broader insight into the Gayfol community, LEGO Masters Richard and Flynn have a great writeup of their experiences being Gayfols. Expanding on that are several accounts from Gayfols on how LEGO touched their lives.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this please leave a comment below.

 

This article was written by Sam.

Find him on Instagram at @Ranga_Bricks

 
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