"I feel most included when I am able to talk to my colleagues about my personal life without worrying about being looked at as different. For example, being able to talk about everyday relationship problems without being seen as different or unrelatable.”
About the series
On June 24th, 2022, Oslo experienced a senseless and brutal attack on the LGBTQAI+ community. The attacks reinforce that the LGBTQAI+ community continues to lack fundamentally safe spaces, even in progressive, and up until now, presumably safe societies such as Norway. While this attack lies very much at the extreme end of the spectrum, inequalities within the workplace also contribute to risk within the community, and the inability of its members to live authentically without consequences.
We sat down with members of the LGBTQAI+ community to learn more about their stories and work together to create a meaningful platform where they are free to share their individual and shared experiences. This series will hopefully offer tangible advice, as well as some food for thought for organisations on how to create a more inclusive, equitable and - most importantly - safe environment for all.
Marte Gundersen (she/her) is an Oslo-based photographer and visual artist. Working between documentary and art photography, Marte’s work covers themes surrounding community, identity, gender equality and LGTBQAI+ rights. Through her work, she is able to mix factual research with artistic expression to share individual and collective experiences around these topics - ultimately cultivating an educational platform that brings both awareness to LGBTQAI+ experiences and visual beauty into people’s lives.
Education and awareness are important topics for Marte, as she feels that misconception of the LGBTQAI+ community stems from a lack of education. In fact, she herself did not even hear about the term “queer” until she was in middle school - leaving empty space for many early development years to learn about and accept different identities and orientations.
”Growing up I never heard of the term ‘queer’. It was never even talked about in my kindergarten or primary school.”
As an adult, Marte has heard multiple stories about how her friends have experienced feeling uncomfortable, excluded and discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. To make matters worse, organizations have taken the other extreme and capitalized on the experiences of the LGBTQAI+ community as evidence of liberalism and democracy, especially to distract from or legitimize violence against other countries or communities - a phenomenon known as pinkwashing.
Unfortunately, these feelings are not exclusively felt by Marte and those near to her. Studies have shown that only half of all LGBTQAI+ people feel like they can be open and honest about who they truly are without fearing discrimination or being disadvantaged in the workplace - going to show that changing logos and passing out flyers is doing little to change what is happening behind closed doors.
This data is even more unsettling when considering that creating a safe space is all about equal, rather than special, treatment. Marte elaborates on this feeling of special or different treatment, saying says she feels the most included when she’s able to talk to her colleagues about her personal life without worrying about being looked at as different.
In addition to being included in everyday conversation, she says that the small signs of support are the ones that matter the most towards inclusivity. Thankfully, she works in supportive environments that have a strong focus on acceptance and diversity.
“I feel most included when I am able to talk to my colleagues about my personal life without worrying about being looked at as different. For example, being able to talk about everyday relationship problems without being seen as different or unrelatable.”
Marte wants the world to come to a place where people don’t have to come out - it should be normal to ask people if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend rather than assuming someone's sexuality.
When it comes to exclusion, this can usually be pointed back to being treated differently. For example, ideally, Marte wants the world to come to a place where people don’t have to come out - it should be normal to ask people if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend rather than assuming someone's sexuality.
When asked about what her ideal workspace would be, she describes a place where it is natural and accepted for her to simply be herself. While of course people will gravitate towards others and communities that make them feel this way, she believes that acceptance should be the absolute default and that everyone must have the liberty to be who they are. For example, where it is the norm to introduce yourself with proper pronunciation and pronouns, and where you never feel that you are stepping on people’s toes by just being yourself.
“Some of my colleagues wear small rainbow pins as a symbol of support to the LGBTQAI+ community. It is small things like these that make you feel included. My boss does also have a small pride flag in their office and that makes me feel comfortable talking freely about who I am. Creating unisex toilets and having people use their pronouns is also a great way to include people - after all, you should never assume someone's gender”.
Much of this freedom and acceptance simply comes from education and continuous exposure, which is why it is so important that schools and workplaces are safe places. At its core, ensuring these are safe spaces is about people's well-being, and in the worst case, their life.
“People from the queer community have often experienced challenging upbringings - therefore, it’s extremely important that workspaces, schools and other social areas create a safe space for the queer community where they feel valued and accounted for.”
Marte is a proud member of the LGBTQAI+ community and uses her artistic talent, network, and platforms to bring education and awareness to themes surrounding community, identity, gender equality and LGTBQAI+ rights. To see some of her work in action, check out the photo series she dedicated to her partner Anna, Dear Anna and check out her website.
If you or someone you know is interested in being featured in this series, please get in touch with Jørgen Helmersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.