ISSN 2330-717X

Hetero Norm Deeply Rooted, Including Among LGBT People


Jojanneke van der Toorn, professor by special appointment in International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Workplace Inclusion at Leiden University, states that it is difficult to create an inclusive work environment. This is partly due to the fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have themselves been socialized in line with hetero norms.


Seemingly tolerant climate

People feel happiest at work if they are appreciated and accepted. Both this and the moral appeal to equal access and treatment call for an inclusive workplace. However, such a workplace is hard to realize because a seemingly tolerant climate is in fact not always that tolerant.

Even those in favor of gay marriage might disapprove of a gay couple kissing in the streets, said Jojanneke van der Toorn, appointed to a joint chair of Leiden University, Workplace Pride and KPN. But it is still important to pursue inclusiveness.

Disadvantaged no matter what

All in all, LGBT people have never had it easy in their workplace, said Van der Toor, neither if they remain ‘in the closet’ nor if they come out. The first has the disadvantage that LGBT people cannot be themselves and always need to choose their words carefully. Having a friendly relationship with colleagues includes telling each other how and with whom you live, and how and with whom you spent your weekend.

However, the second option also has a disadvantage, for example the (unconscious) prejudices of others that LGTB people encounter. One of the underlying motives for those prejudiced comments is, as shown by research, the so-called ‘justification of the system’.

Justifying the system

In short, the theory argues that a great majority of people are motivated to view the world in which they are living (the system) as honest and just because this gives them a sense of security and safety. People often object to changes and so try to justify the status quo, even when this system rejects certain groups of people, such as LGBT.


Such negative aspects of the system are denied or downplayed, strangely enough by those who belong to the rejected groups as well; justification of the system is also a sign that people don’t like to fall outside of the system. ‘The discrimination against LGBT people isn’t that bad,’ was a comment from someone who belongs to this group and definitely experiences discrimination.


Such mechanisms make it difficult to create a truly inclusive work environment. In the coming years, Van der Toorn will focus on doing just that, despite evidence-based principles. Inclusiveness offers many opportunities for employers and organizations. Van der Toorn is convinced of that.

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