You’ve definitely heard of Barbie, the iconic toy doll and her little sister Skipper, but have you ever heard of the Gay Bob doll that was sold in 1978 as a symbol of the rising gay identity?
A former advertising executive named Harvey Rosenberg created the Gay Bob doll as a meaningful personal project after his marriage crumbed and his mom fell grievously ill.
He wanted the doll to “liberate men from traditional sexual roles” and he invested $10,000 of his own money into the doll’s production, stating, “We had something to learn from the gay movement, just like we did from the black civil rights movement and the women’s movement, and that is having the courage to stand up and say ‘I have a right to be what I am.'”
Rosenberg said that the 11-inch doll resembled Robert Redford and Paul Newman, with a California tan, blond hair, a necklace, a man bag and a pierced ear. He came pre-packaged in a closet, meaning that when you opened up his box, you were literally helping him come out as a gay man.
Rosenberg said that the only toy manufacturer who agreed to make a doll with a penis was in Hong Kong, and even then he had to send them a custom mold for it. He also would’ve given the doll an anus and belly button, but the manufacturer wasn’t able to make such a mold.
A booklet that accompanied the doll reportedly read:
Gay people are no different than straight people… if everyone came ‘out of their closets’ there wouldn’t be so many angry, frustrated, frightened people… People who are not ashamed of what they are, are more lovable, kind and understanding.. It’s not easy to be honest about what you are — in fact it takes a great deal of courage… But remember if Gay Bob has the courage to come out his closet, so can you…
Approximately 2,000 copies of the doll sold mostly through mail-order ads in gay magazines and several New York and San Francisco boutique stores. Naturally, homophobes considered the doll a plot to market lethal homosexual lifestyles to the American people, but really it was just a small, humorous toy with a big, important message.