The LGBT+ community is facing an inclusion gap. Let's change this together.
Too many in the LGBT+ community, especially younger people, face a real inclusion gap. We can close this gap by listening, understanding and building bridges. So, that's why we've spoken to people from this community about their experiences, dreams and visions for a more inclusive future.
This is what facing the gap looks like
At IKEA we want to be part of the solution, but we also know we don't have all the answers. So, what if we talk to the ones that do know? That's why we are giving voice and visibility to the LGBT+ youth that will play a major role in shaping the future. Let's listen, learn and share their important messages on what a more inclusive world could look like.
Don't restrain yourself from the immense potential that the queer community holds. We're here. We're queer. And you have to deal with it.”
Julius (they/them)23 years
How do you identify?
I prefer to use they/them, but I don't vibe with the concept of having a gender identity at all. I feel like if you were to describe me, my gender would be the least important aspect of who I am.
Could you evolve that?
I identify as non-binary and people have different views of what that is. Some people see gender as a scale between masculine and feminine, and then non-binaries somewhere in between. But I see it more like a triangle, with masculine, feminine and non-binary in different corners. So non-binary isn't on a scale, it's outside of the spectrum.
Is it difficult when people don't recognise the way you identify?
I have no issue with being misgendered. I understand that most people see me as a man and personally I have no issue with that. But it's a personal thing and I can't speak for all non-binary people.
So how does this way of seeing gender affect you?
I feel like the assigned identity I got at birth, being a man, it kind of fits me – but it for sure doesn't fit all of me. To me gender is a personal thing, you can identify in any way you want, and you can be whatever you want. This makes sense to me. What doesn't make sense is that the eight billion people on this planet should be able to fit into just two predefined groups on the opposite side of a spectrum. That sounds just utterly weird to me.
Could you describe how it feels for you to define the way you do?
To me, being identified as a man seems so restraining. Being a man dictates what kind of body type I should strive for, who I'm allowed to have romantic or sexual relationships with, how my voice should sound and so on. As a non-binary, I don't feel that I have to fit into a stereotype, I can just be myself.
What do you think of when you hear the word inclusion?
From a political point of view, I believe that you can't have real inclusion without a diversity of people taking the decisions. The traditional politician from a well-off and well-connected upper middle class will in most cases not be able to grasp what it's like to be poor and will take political decisions that affect poor people negatively. It works similarly with a government mostly made up of men. It will make decisions that benefit men and not women.
So, no inclusion without diversity?
This is so important. We can make much more informed decisions if we include a broad palette of different beliefs, cultural backgrounds and gender identities. That's key. And to give a concrete example. Why is it so hard, and in most countries impossible, to get a passport with your real gender? A passport that states that you're non-binary? To me, that's just because there are not yet non-binary people in power. Because when there is they will realise its importance and understand how much it hurts. And things will change.
Where do you feel at home?
The vibe of the people I'm surrounded with is what makes it a home or not, and it doesn't depend on the place. I also feel at home when I'm creating something. When I'm sewing or making jewellery.
Creativity is important for you?
Yes, I like to create and I also feel like I'm constantly creating and evolving my gender expression. For example, I'm not a heavy user of makeup, but I like to explore its possibilities. I also like to wear crop tops because it enhances my masculinity. It lets me explore a masculinity that is my own.
Do you experience situations when you don't feel included?
Of course. Often. I've also been attacked and physically assaulted. It's one of the reasons why I might wear a large puffer jacket, or a big hoody when I'm out in public. I hide who I am because I want to stay safe.
How are these experiences affecting you?
To me, being attacked highlighted how far we still are from real inclusion. The fact that just because I dress differently or act differently makes some people want to kill me? How weird is that? Being queer is still living with the knowledge that your rights and even your existence are constantly up for debate. It's not yet the view of the whole society that you can just be who you are. It makes me really frustrated that it could be up to other people, and sometimes a political question, if I should exist or not.
Have you also experienced being fetishised?
That's something else of course, but it can be annoying. I don't want to call out a specific group, but, well, straight girls in the gay clubs . . . I've been approached by women who are like: 'You could be my gay best friend and we can go shopping together.' What's up with that? Then they only project their vision of a gay person that they've seen in a chic flic from the early 2000s directed by a straight guy. They don't see me or who I am, and that can of course be tiresome.
Do you have more examples of this?
Yes, quite often I've experienced that just because you are gay, people seem to think it's ok to casually ask very intimate questions. 'Are you a top or a bottom?' Questions like that. Well, I don't ask you to describe your intimate life in the same way as you might talk about choosing milk or yoghurt with your cereals. What happens is that I'm seen as my gay identity or sexuality instead of a real person, and no one wants to be treated like that.
Why do you think it takes so long to change society and people's perceptions?
It's a difficult question, but one major problem is individualism. People simply don't interact with persons who are different from themselves. That's especially true online. The algorithms feed you more of what you already see. You get radicalised by your own feed. This is dangerous, and another thing that people in power right now seem to have a hard time understanding.
Do you have a message to big companies around inclusion?
Hmm . . . Well, maybe they could start by not making such a big thing out of people's gender. For example, it's great if a political party or a company hires someone who's homosexual or transgender. But is less cool when they push this person forward like an excited schoolteacher showing off the new kid in front of the class. 'Say hello to this new weird kid, isn't it great to have him in our class.' I'm sure they do care about inclusion, but when it's not done in a mindful and respectful way it feels alienating or just stupid. I mean, these people are hopefully hired because of their competencies, not because of their gender. That's noted.
Anything else you believe the rest of us should know about the young LGBT+ generation?
I don't think you can make a workplace inclusive and then start hiring queer people. I think this process has to happen simultaneously and together with the people you want to include. I would also just like to send all workplaces a friendly reminder about the fact that there are quite many of us and very soon we're in your companies and institutions. Don't restrain yourself from the immense capabilities and potential that the queer community holds. We're here. We're queer. And you have to deal with it.
Anything you want to add?
We've talked a lot about gender, but as I said in the beginning, gender shouldn't be so important. The way you experience love with your partner is the same way I experience love with mine. You don't have to understand everything about me to understand that. This knowledge should be all we need to respect and treat each other like humans. To move forward and beyond the discussion about gender to more pressing issues. For example, we got a planet to save!
I could never show my true self. The way I laugh, the way I talk, the way I walk. I had to act like I had a role in the world's longest film.”
Georgii (he/him)26 years
How do you identify?
I identify as a gay man. Not more complicated than that, but at the same time I have for the most part of my life not been able to say this.
I'm from a small town in Russia called Chelyabinsk, on the border between Europe and Asia, and I just recently moved to France. So for the most part of my life, I've lived in a society where I couldn't be open with who I am. Life for the LGBT+ community in Russia is very difficult, and I feel lucky to be in Paris now.
Where do you feel at home?
Right now I'd say that I feel at home at IKEA, in the store where I work. I feel that I can be myself at work, and it’s an incredible feeling of freedom.
What kind of feelings do you get when you feel at home?
I feel such a relief, almost like I could fly when I realise that I don't need to hide who I am or be afraid that someone finds out.
Could you give an example of what your daily life looked like before?
During all my years in school, I could never show my true self. The way I laugh, the way I talk, the way I walk. I had to hide all that and act like I had a role in the world's longest film.
Do you have a memory of when you felt understood and included?
I have a very warm memory from my first job. I worked there with an older woman and when we talked about relationships she said she had a partner. One day when we had time for a real conversation she told me that her partner was another woman, and it was such an awakening for me. It was the first time I spoke to someone who dared to tell me the truth about their life and that created a strong bond between us. I felt I could be myself with her.
What do you believe the rest of us in society could do to make you feel more included?
I do believe our world would be a lot better if all of us cared enough to listen and act more tactfully towards other people. An even more concrete thing would be to be more careful in our language, for example, use the term partner instead of assuming that all boys have a girlfriend. It would also be great if people started to ask which pronouns someone prefers if they are unsure. These are small actions that will have an enormous impact on inclusion in society.
Do you think your future career could be negatively affected because of who you are?
Previously, when I lived in Russia it would have been impossible for me to have a career if I didn't hide my personality. Even at IKEA in Russia, I had real troubles with my manager who was very religious and homophobic, and I was shamed for not being 'a real man' and things like that. It was painful and difficult.
But what does your work life look like now?
I love it! I work at an IKEA store in central Paris, and I feel included and relaxed about being who I am. What I also like about working for IKEA is that it's a company that celebrates pride. And not just during pride season, it's part of the IKEA culture to take a stand for inclusion and LGBT+ rights, and this makes me really proud to work here.
A last question. What do you dream of right now?
I think a lot about living more calmly. In Russia, every day is a fight against the government and against society, it's so stressful, but here I feel like I can just be me. I want to become a full-fledged citizen and find a place that I can call my home. I don't want to be famous. I don't want to be rich. I just want to live.
Supporting LGBT+ people starts at home
I've had customers calling me bad names or saying hurtful things. But I shut that out because I see them for what they are. Ignorant, mean and maybe also afraid.”
Yanis (he/him) 24 years
How do you identify?
It's a simple question for me. I'm a man. That's all.
What's inclusion to you?
It's about realising that we're all different and accepting those differences. If we could see that as the asset and positive thing it is, then we'd live in a better and more innovative world.
Where do you feel at home?
I feel at home when I'm with my close friends. I also feel at home in my home, not the home of my parents, but in my own apartment. There I feel relaxed and safe.
Is that a group of friends you've known for a long time?
Yes, I'm lucky to have a group of very close friends. They have been with me from the beginning and accept me like I am. I've had a lot of problems with my parents, and my friends have supported me through this. My friends are my chosen family, I love them so much, and I wouldn't be here without them.
We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but what's your relationship with your family?
I don't mind talking about it, I grew up in the suburbs of Paris and I'm from a Muslim family with Algerian roots. My parents have very negative views on homosexuality, and for several years I listened to them and tried to fit in. Tried to be like they wanted me to be. But when I was 18 years old, my best friend came out as lesbian. She was so strong and told me: 'You need to be who you want to be. I'll be there for you. I, and the rest of your friends, will support you.'
What's your relationship with your parents like today?
It's complicated. Now we talk with each other again, but we never talk about my life or that I'm gay. They know that I like men but say that they don't want to talk about it.
Do you have a specific memory of when you felt you had to hide who you are?
Yes, many. When I lived with my parents, and I was preparing for a night out with my friends, I would hide the clothes I wanted to wear from my parents and put them on at my friends' place. Like a pair of short shorts for example, that I know my parents would disapprove of.
Any other memory you'd like to share?
I played handball when I was younger. I loved the game, but in a team like that, I couldn't show my real personality. I told myself that I'll never show anyone there who I really am. I was just going to show them my skills on the court. When I think about it now it makes me a bit sad, and it wasn't comfortable hiding my true self like that.
When do you feel you can be your true self?
When I'm at a party with my friends. Where I can do whatever I want, and be whatever I want, without anyone judging me. I just feel so light, free and happy.
What could the world around you do to make you feel more included?
I would like people to realise that we all have things that we struggle with. This is important because it also unites us humans. If we made an effort to see the person in front of us, to ask a question without judgment, then we could create real understanding and empathy. And that's what inclusion is all about.
What do you believe your future career will look like? Do you feel that society around is putting up barriers because of who you are?
Because of my background, I've learned to switch between being my true self, and a version of me that never shows who I am. Is it a good thing? No. Is it the right thing to do if I want to build a career? Well, maybe. I work for IKEA now, but if I would like to work for another company in the future? Then maybe I would have to hide who I am.
Do you feel you can be yourself at IKEA?
To me, IKEA is a workplace that truly cares about inclusion. I feel that I can be myself at work. I can't speak for everyone, but that's how it feels to me. For example, I can wear a rainbow-coloured key lanyard every day around my neck or in my pocket. That's very important to me. Sometimes customers ask me about it, and then I tell them that IKEA is a company that takes an active stand for inclusion. That makes me proud to work here.
How does it make you feel?
It just makes me feel like I can be myself. I also feel supported by my managers to be who I am and take this role. I'm a leader in my store around diversity and inclusion, and when I can be myself at work, I believe I set an example. I hope it makes it easier for other people working in this store, and in other IKEA stores in France, to show who they are.
Have you experienced any negative situations at work?
Not from colleagues, but from customers, yes, for sure. I've had customers calling me bad names or saying hurtful things. But I can somehow shut that out because I see them for what they are. Ignorant, mean and maybe also afraid. I don't engage in that kind of situation, I walk away from it, and I don't let it affect me. But I also know that not everyone can experience something like that and don't feel bad or hurt about it.
Do you have a concrete suggestion of something IKEA and other big companies could do to improve inclusion?
Yes, I believe it would be great if we at IKEA could start using preferred pronouns within our company. I'm sure it's the same situation in most big companies, but we and IKEA, and the rest of the world, just need to realise that there's not just female or male. There are so many more ways to define who you are.
This is important, can you explain it further?
If we start to use pronouns, everyone will become more aware that a lot of people don't fit the binary female or male stereotypes. That you now instead can be who you truly are. It may look like a small thing, like a few extra characters in an email signature, but it has a huge value and importance. I would feel so proud if IKEA encouraged us co-workers to use pronouns because this means that we would recognise the fact that there are now more than two ways to be in this world.
In the future, a company will focus on my skills and not my gender, or the way I dress. Even if people don't listen to us yet, my generation will bring this change.”
Prin (she/her)19 years
How do you identify?
To me it's very clear. I'm transgender, male to female. I want to become a woman.
What do you think about when you hear the word inclusion?
To me it's something rather personal. Society today is more open than before, but I still can get that feeling, like I should fit in. For example, when I started at a new school, I was very nervous talking to new people because in the back of my head I can't stop thinking about that I'm a trans person.
What were you thinking?
I thought that they wouldn’t like me because I'm not like them.
Where do you feel at home?
I'm very lucky now to feel at home with my family, because they have become very open minded. But I think I feel the most at home with my best friend. She's also a trans person and with her I can talk about everything. When I'm with her I just feel right.
Do you have a memory of when you've felt out of place, or not included?
Something I've experienced when I've started a new job is that people have come up to me and asked: 'Are you a man or a woman?' That makes me really nervous, and it just hurts. This is a very personal question and I don't know the person, and don't what, or if, I should answer. It's not like I walk up to people I don't know and ask them intimate questions.
How would you like people around you to act?
I would like other people to be a bit more open, to accept and understand that I'm just a human like them. I'm a bit shy, but I'm also an open person, I like to meet new people, and of course we can talk about more intimate things when we get to know each other and feel comfortable together.
If you started a new job, what would make you feel included?
I believe that if people understood that my gender is possibly the least interesting part of me I would feel more comfortable. I'm a person with skills, knowledge and experiences. But also a person with flaws and insecurities like everyone else. Maybe if people were a bit less judgemental and instead just asked: 'Hi, who are you?' Then that would make me feel a lot more included.
You're young, but do you see the society around you putting up barriers when it comes to your future career?
I do believe it will get better because when my generation gets older and enter the workforce there will simply be more of us. In the future, a company will focus on my skills and not my gender, or the way I dress. My generation will bring this change, and even if people don't listen to us right now, we won't go away. I hope that this will push for acceptance from the rest of society.
What would you like to do when you finish school?
I'll probably move to Stockholm, I would like to try life in a bigger city, but I don't want to leave Sweden. I moved here from Thailand when I was seven years old, and I feel at home in Sweden because it's an openminded society.
Do you have a concrete idea of something that would make you feel more included in society?
Yes, both in workplaces and in society in general, I believe we need toilets and locker rooms that are gender neutral. I don't feel comfortable in the men's locker room, but sometimes when I choose the women's room to change clothes, I get a lot of questions, like: 'Why are you here?' And that makes me very nervous and I don't feel good about it. But right now there's really no place for me to go.
You're still in school, is that a place where you feel included?
Yes, I go to a school called Spyken, in Lund. It's a great school that takes an active stand for the LGBT+ community. No one would ever ask me if I'm male or female, because there are just so many different kind of people in that school. I feel really good when I'm there. Like, I'm at the right place. I feel at home.
I, and other young queers, don't have a magic raincoat where everything just slides off. So, when we're not included, our self-esteem suffers. Our self-image suffers. We get hurt.”
Yaël (they,them)25 years
How do you identify?
I'm a non-binary trans person. Usually, when people hear the word trans they think about binary trans, and that's why I make sure to put non-binary in front of it. And I'm polyamorous, which means that I don't practice monogamy.
Can you explain a bit more?
Being polyamorous means different things for different people. But for me it means that I am not exclusive with my partner and that I practice non-hierarchy, meaning that my romantic and deep non-romantic relationships have the same importance in my life.
Could you give an example?
Sure, for example, it's normal to take a day off to take care of a family member or if your partner is ill. But if your best friend is sick and you're like: 'I'm sorry, actually I can't come to work today. I need to work from home because my best friend is sick.' Then I've been met with questions: 'Why? Who are you? Like their mom?' No, I'm not. But it's my best friend. I love them. I'm going to take care of them.
What does inclusion mean to you?
To me, inclusion is about the way that you position yourself in a community and about how you extend your privilege to others. Privilege is important, I think nowadays people can feel attacked by the word and feel like the term is used to shame them. A privilege is a tool, and if we are open enough to understand that there's always a viewpoint beyond our own that has equal worth and equal value, then we can use the different privileges we have to include and support people around us.
Where and when do you feel at home?
That's a really good question because I think that inclusion also has this emotional side. About feeling seen and feeling understood. I'm a lot of things. I am what I identify to be. But I'm also Jewish, I'm an immigrant, and I'm the first person in my family to have a higher education. I feel included when other people don't just judge by what I look like, but when they care to listen, ask questions, and have a conversation.
Are there any physical places where you feel at home?
Yes, Malmö, Sweden where I live is a great city with several places where I feel included, places that give me a sense of calm. There's the bookstore and queer culture scene, Page 28, where I volunteer, but also the WHOSE Museum, Jesusbaren café, a climbing gym and the roller-skating park.
Is the place you live also a place where you feel at home?
This is for sure not a given, a lot of people don't, but I'm lucky enough to share a home with some of my best friends. You know, we have all these big things to deal with outside but when we come home, we can just be a bit grumpy and tired on the couch. Give each other a big hug if that's what we need. Cook each other dinner, or just eat chips and play a lot of board games.
In your personal life, when have you felt out of place, or needed to hide parts of who you are?
I grew up in a conservative Jewish community, which means that I come from a community that is very religious and culturally aligned. I was assigned female at birth, so when I did things that weren't girly, there were a lot of questions.
Was it more than just questions about you being different?
Yes, when I got a bit older and started to explore how I expressed and presented myself in public, there was a lot of shaming for that. A lot of expectations about how I should behave, and the people I was supposed to hang out with. I'm 25 now, and it wasn't until I was 21 that I met a queer community and had this awakening. 'Oh, is this what it feels like to just be yourself?' And even if I wasn't understood, instead of judgment I was met with a friendly question. 'What's that all about, tell me more.'
How did your family react when you became aware of who you are?
It has taken my family the last three years to understand. Understand how I want to be treated and how I want to be seen and spoken to. But I also must remind myself that it took 25 years for me to understand myself. All these things that I have to inform my own identity, they don't have. But they're willing to listen and willing to try. And they're putting in this effort with a lot of love. Learning is a part of growing and growing is always going to be necessary.
What would you like to ask of people around you, the rest of us, who isn't part of the LGBT+ youth?
The first thing would be to ask you to sometimes just try to talk with people that are different from you. Maybe through engaging in some kind of community work? We need to break our social silos, and I really believe that there's so much value in giving back to the communities that we care about. And if you also would spend some time informing yourself about how people live that doesn't share the same privileges as you, then we'd be on a good path.
So smaller actions are important?
Yes, I believe that small things can make big changes. People might ask me why I don't use a certain word, why I believe we need toilets not just for males/females, and why there's a lot of talk about non-binary. But if they are open to listening and trying to understand why this is important to me, then that's a small thing with possibly huge implications.
What kind of experiences do you have from your previous workplaces?
I work in a technical field, and I was usually the only queer person in a room full of men. That was often not a comfortable situation. I feel very comfortable within myself. I feel very secure within myself, but I'm not sure about how other people perceive me and how they treat me based on that perception.
But you've quit that job, right?
Yes, and I'm growing and learning along the way. I'm 25 now, and I think the message that I want to give is: to surround yourself with people who believe in you. Find your community. You are the best gift to yourself.
Could you evolve that?
Earlier today I had a job interview, and I would not have had the confidence to apply for this job even half a year ago, because I was letting other people's perceptions limit me. I'm not immune to what people think of me. I, and other young queers, don't have this magic raincoat where everything just slides off. So, when we're not included, our self-esteem suffers. Our self-image suffers. We get hurt.
What was important for you when you applied for this new job?
That it's a company that has good values and a progressive attitude. I've realised that I can't hide who I am, if I feel that they can't include me as a person, then I don't want to be there. So, if the company can't see and respect me for who I am, then why would I put all my energy into working with them? But I'm also very aware that a lot of people don't have the chance to choose where and who they work with.
What would you like to tell a big company like IKEA about inclusion?
When I was growing up, there wasn't a lot of visibility around the queer communities. Now I perceive there to be more visibility and not a lot of inside representation (i.e., in hiring processes, team diversity, education background, etc) to create systemic, lasting change for marginalised communities. Pink-washing or rainbow-washing happens a lot. This is important.
Could you tell us a bit more?
I think it's important for the visibility to reflect the representation, and we mention that here, since visibility is often only the façade of diversity. Visibility is the company logo with a rainbow for Pride and representation is the diversity of people who work there year-round and the policies that support and reflect them.
Do you have a concrete idea of how big companies can improve inclusion?
There will never be real inclusion without a real diversity of people. I've heard about a recruitment practice where you don't just have a point system for how good applicants are, but for how diverse they are. If a company is serious about diversity, and they should be because it's key for innovation, then they need to factor in how they build more diverse teams. We often don't see or know what we are lacking, so hiring an outside expert can help us cover those blind spots. Great, that’s noted.
Anything else on this topic?
Yes, it's important to remember it's not going to be easy, and that the people who are spearheading change are going to need support. Because it's tough being the only person in the room, and not feeling that people understand you. They will know best themselves what kind of support they need.
One last question. What have you learned recently?
Learning to love yourself, and find people who help love and support you, is super important. You're going to live with yourself for the rest of your life! The way you choose to look, express yourself and who you love is for you to explore. Learning to step away from social norms was hard for me, but now I wear both tight dresses and suits, and buzz cut my hair because it's so practical in summer and I like the way it looks. I've learned to grow into the person I want to be, and what a wonderful feeling of freedom that is.
An ally to LGBT+ co-workers and colleagues
Our aim is to create a fully inclusive work environment and to provide equal opportunities for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. To secure we focus our efforts on the most important actions, we have joined Stonewall and Workplace Pride, two organisations that strive for greater acceptance of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities (LGBT+).
We have also co-created and endorsed the UN Standards of Conduct on tackling discrimination against LGBT+ people in the workplace and in the community.