Equality without gender perspective

Almost exactly one year ago, the public library in Hallonbergen near Stockholm became the first library in Sweden to achieve LGBT-certified status. Such a certificate indicates an organization’s efforts in actively creating an open and including atmosphere, welcome to everyone. Much of the criteria focuses on educating staff and developing methods for challenging long-established norms in society.

The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) educates and executes certification. The certification process takes six to eight months and to become certified, all staff must obtain a certain level of knowledge about LGBT issues.

The certificate guaranties a workplace with a sound working environment and ambition to treat everyone with respect from an LGBT perspective, and it additionally provides a spotlight for the organizations’ ambition to strategically work with these issues.

“We award them our stamp of recognition confirming that solid progress has been made with the issues at hand,” says Veronica Berg Hulthén, responsible for education and school information at RFSL Stockholm.

“We have been doing this since 2008, we started it as a test to see if it was a concept that could work. The first place to be certified was a community health care cen ter. We then worked with a youth health care center and a men’s health care center. We felt that the certification process work ed well, and made it a permanent part of our operations,” says Veronica Berg Hulthén.

More libraries 

She says that the development since then has exploded. To date, almost 150 facilities, mostly within the health care field, have been LGBT certified, but there are more libraries in the pipeline. Three more libraries have already started the certification process; one will begin in February 2014 and another one with a kick-off meeting on the near horizon.

“The majority of certified facilities are within health care, but we think we can certify within a lot of different areas. It is a lot of fun to work with libraries, they are visited by many people so it feels good,” says Veronica Berg Hulthén.

Every business or facility to be LGBT certified experiences a lot of changes. The manner of working and interacting with visitors is thoroughly examined, and the working environment for the staff is also subject to in-depth scrutiny.

“In Hallonbergen the process went very well, they made some major changes, the type of changes we see in all places that go through the certification process. Often changes of linguistic usage and address which are the most obvious,” says Veronica Berg Hulthén.

The public library in Hallonbergen, in suburban Stockholm, was the first library in Sweden to receive the certification. Eight months In the municipality of Sundbyberg, where Hallonbergen is situated, the management wanted to work with equality. They took a course in equality integration and looked at how they work with equality throughout the municipality.

“It interested me, when I studied to become a librarian I felt that there was very little focus on gender issues,” says Sofie Samuelsson, responsible for gender issues and project leader of Hallonbergen library’s LGBT certification.

“We talked about how we could work with equality in a library. Inequality is often seen as inequality between men and women, but that can often reestablish power structures between the sexes. We thought about how we could work with equality without defining gender, and heard about some pre-schools that were going to get LGBT certified, so that’s how we came up with the idea to LGBT certify the library,” Sofie Samuelsson says.

The certification process took eight months, and is a skill-acquisition process in which LGBT issues are made visible and social norms in general are scrutinized.

The way you say things 

To become certified, it was also necessary to meticulously go through the operations of the facility, including everything from overseeing policies, operational guidelines and the physical environment in the library, to how information is presented on the library web page and on informational posters. To facilitate this work, RFSL had a ready-made startup package with checklists to follow.

“For example, we have changed the text on our posters from ‘come with your mom and dad’ to ‘adults’ since there are children here that have no mom or dad. And we have changed the name of our parent shelf  to family shelf.”

This is not something that RFSL has instructed the library to do. Sofie Samuelsson explains, that when you start thinking about social norms and work with the way you use your language, you become observant of how habitually norms are dictating the things you say and think.

“When you start to think about it, you change what you say.”

A mindset change

At the end of the certification process, all of the library staff had to take a test, which did not only include testing factual knowledge, but also mindset. Everyone passed, all the check-lists were completed, and they had decided how they would continue to work with LGBT issues when the certification process was over.

“I hope this has made us more including. This is quite a sexually segregated community and we try not to assign gender to people when we talk to them. For me, this is about knowledge and we must continuously work with these issues.”

The library in Hallonbergen is not the largest in the area, but it is well-attended and much appreciated in the community.

“We have up to about 700 visitors per day. Some people come here for our ‘rainbow shelf ’ and it does inspire questions and discussions here in the library. The certification has given us tools and methods to meet questions and prejudices that people might have,” Sofie Samuelsson says.

Sofie Samuelsson by the rainbow shelf at Hallonbergen library. Photo Annika Hjerpe

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden