“The first thing you notice as a child is that you are a minority”.
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.
Seb (they/them) is an engineer in applied chemistry and biotechnology, currently taking further education in biotechnology at NMBU.
As a part of the LGBTQAI+ community, Seb has felt different and excluded throughout their life. “Society is fundamentally heteronormative and cis-gendered; which means that many believe that there are men and women and nothing else. The first thing you notice is that you are a minority”. Starting from an early age, they knew they were different and the lack of representation made it challenging to figure out their own identity. Without visibility, other concepts do not exist, which makes it natural to feel isolated.
”Society is fundamentally heteronormative and cis-gendered. So, the first thing you notice from a young age is that you are a minority.”
Having experienced feelings of isolation and exclusion from an early age, topics such as education and increased visibility at all levels of society are close to Seb’s heart. They feel that exposure to topics that challenge the current conceptualization of gender as two dichotomous categories should be prioritized - ideally, we would have representation as early as kindergarten. Seb believes that early exposure and acceptance might prevent kids from struggling with their gender identity later on.
Gender identity refers to each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth including the personal sense of the body and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech, and mannerisms (United Nations, human rights). Being trans can be very difficult in everyday settings which is unproblematic to cis-gendered people because the majority of things in society are gendered to what they identify with. For instance, most toilets are marked for either men or women. Seb comments on this saying, “I immediately notice if it says ‘WC’ or ‘toilet’ rather than ‘men’ or ‘women’”. For Seb, changing rooms at the gym is another challenging everyday setting.
“I find it absolutely horrible to be at the gym because I have to choose which changing room I go to, and I don’t feel comfortable in either one of them.”
While toilets and changing rooms are clear examples of gender exclusion, everyday life is a little less clear - and exclusion and isolation extend beyond the obviously gendered situations.
Unfortunately, this is not only the case for Seb. Transphobia and the concept of otherness limit the ability for trans people to access spaces that cis-gendered people take for granted.
"Othering is a process whereby individuals and groups are treated and marked as different and inferior from the dominant social group. Disenfranchised groups such as women, people of divergent ethnic backgrounds, working-class people, LGBTQIA+, or migrants may all be othered and, in consequence, suffer discrimination" (A dictionary of gender studies).
Work is another arena where trans people experience exclusion and otherness. According to a study by McKinsey (2020) trans people are twice as likely to experience demeaning comments and sexist jokes at the workplace. They are also three times as likely to feel like they can’t talk about their private life whilst at work. These statistics point toward a broader issue; that trans people continue to face hostile and excluding work environments despite peaked interest around DEI. Therefore, it is essential that organisations foster inclusion on all fronts and bring awareness to the struggles minority groups face every day through visibility, conversations, but most importantly actions. For example, making tweaks to your about us page, de-gendering your bathrooms, implementing inclusive ATS, hosting company-wide DEI training programs, implementing anonymous reporting channels, and more.
“I love it when organisations have an ‘about us’ page that really shows what they stand for, their mission, and their ethical stance. For instance, using phrases like ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ and actually backing it up with some tangible actions and results."
While we never know what other situations people struggle with on a daily basis, the most important thing is to be open to learning, changing your behavior, and having conversations about the issues of your peers. This is an important step toward becoming more inclusive, because - as Seb points out - we can only be as inclusive as we have been taught to be. However, we can employ tools and workflows that can uncover new learning around every corner. Even simple and small steps can make the world of difference.
“Making minor changes might not matter much to anyone else, but for someone who identifies as trans, it can mean everything."
Ellsworth, D., Mendy, A., & Sullivan, G. (2020). How the LGBTQ+ community fares in the workplace. McKinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inc
Griffin, G. (2017). A dictionary of Gender Studies. Oxford University Press. https://books.google.no/booksid=cns2DwAAQBAJ&pg=PT150&lpg=PT150&dq="
United Nations. (n.d.). The struggle of trans and gender-diverse persons. https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/ie-sexual-orientation-a
If you or someone you know is interested in being featured in this series, please get in touch with Jørgen Helmersen at email@example.com.