It is becoming more and more common to find LGBTQ-certified places in Sweden. Among them are four asylum housing buildings. The idea is to create an environment where everyone feels included and welcome, especially those who are seeking asylum on grounds of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Recently, the private company Attendo-run Westsura asylum housing building outside Västerås raised a rainbow flag and celebrated becoming LGBTQ certified. Jeanette Peretic, Westura's director, told Radio Sweden that they saw a need for staff to develop special competence to deal with LGBTQ issues among those living in asylum housing.
So, they enrolled in an eight month course given by RFSL, The Swedish Federation for LGBT Rights, along with three people who live in asylum housing in southern Sweden. And at the end of May they were ready to raise the rainbow flag.
"We try to use gender-neutral terms, everything from asking if someone has a partner, instead of saying wife or husband, to asking people what pronoun they prefer to be called," Peretic said.
In order to be LGBTQ-certified by RFSL, they also had to adapt the physical environment too. Some things they have changed are relabelling bathrooms to be gender neutral and rethinking the sauna and gym schedules, in order for every one to feel comfortable using those facilities.
"I think things will be completely different in a year. By then we'll have a better method of reaching out with information to all asylum seekers. This is more of a question of implementation, which we still need to work with. How do we inform every asylum seeker about LGBTQ issues? That it isn't evil, that it isn't contagious, that it is natural and that we have laws in Sweden that protect even this group of people," Peretic said.
However, the reactions have not been all positive to the change. In June, someone tore down the rainbow flag at Westsura. They have replaced the flag and continue working to create an environment welcoming to all, but Peretic said that it is not always an easy journey.
"This is work that will take time. I think everyone would agree with me that changing beliefs and values is something that must take time and come to every person. And I can say that every one of my staff of over 20 people haven't come equally as far along either. Everyone has their own process," Peretic said.