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An LGBT Centre in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 06, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay rights, human rights abuses, LGBT center, LGBT Centre NGO, LGBT rights, Mongolia

Editors' Note: The Mongolian LGBT Centre is this year's awardee of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's Felipa de Souza award, which honors human rights defenders working on LGBT rights each year at it's a Celebration of Courage gala. Mongolian-LGBT-centre.jpgToday's guest bloggers are LGBT Advocacy Programme Manager Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel and Youth Programme Manager Munkhzaya Nergui.

The establishment in 2009 of an NGO solely dedicated to upholding the human rights of Mongolia's LGBT community was a milestone in the Mongolian LGBT rights movement, and marked the end of a difficult and frustrating three-year journey for we LGBT Centre founders. We encountered a lot of prejudice along the way, and a lot of unnecessary obstacles were placed in our path as a result of that prejudice.

This was indicative of the level of societal misunderstanding and lack of acceptance of LGBT people that exists across the board in Mongolia. We expected it because it was a fight that hadn't been waged before, and hence we knew it was inevitable that it would not be an easy journey. We were prepared to go to the highest court in the land if necessary.

We had no intention of giving up, and we didn't. But certainly people's attitudes were - and remain - the greatest challenge.

The issues facing the LGBT community in Mongolia are myriad and exist across all conceivable sectors of life.

One of our main areas of focus this past year has been on clearly defining those issues and on educating society about those issues and what needs to be done in order to overcome them - and in this we are really stressing two things: first is individual responsibility - that is, ending discrimination begins with each and every person - and the second is on the need to establish institutional and legislative protections for LGBT people, such as the enactment of a law on non-discrimination, something we are currently spearheading the push for.

In November, we launched the first national LGBT non-discrimination campaign, which is still running. As part of this campaign, we broke the key issues down into the following areas: Hate crimes, domestic violence against LGBT people, discrimination in education, discrimination in the health sector, and discrimination against LGBT relationships. Of course, these aren't the only areas in which LGBT people face problems, but they certainly represent pressing areas of concern.

These are the main areas in which we are presently actively engaged, as well as undertaking such initiatives as working with Mongolian police to help broaden their understanding and acceptance of LGBT people. This is something that hasn't been done before, but for which there is an urgent need given the level of police harassment that LGBT have faced.

We have already conducted two LGBT human rights training for police, which we will scale up throughout 2011. We have also been working to develop partnerships with a range of cross-sectoral civil society organisations to ensure the integration of LGBT human rights into their agendas as well.

Our visibility within Mongolia has led to us receiving a surprising amount of public support, and our staff have been invited to speak at a number of schools and universities in Ulaanbaatar. This really is the key to the future success of anything we do. Ours is a young population, and if we can change the hearts and minds of today's youth, then we believe that future generations of LGBT people will enjoy a completely different reality.

IGLHRC has supported us at every step of our journey - and indeed continues to do so. It is so important to have that international support and to be able to call on IGLHRC's collective knowledge of LGBT human rights and human rights mechanisms when needed (and we've needed it often), and in this we would particularly like to extend our deepest thanks to Grace Poore and Ging Cristobal. Without people like them, our work is that much harder.

The Felipa de Souza Award came as a big - albeit welcome - surprise to all of us. And to be honest, it still feels very surreal. Sometimes we feel incredibly far removed from the world's eyes and the world's consciousness, so this award reinforces to all of us that people are watching what is happening in Mongolia.

No activist works for accolades, but when they do come along they serve as a poignant reminder that no matter how difficult the challenges we face, we are headed down the right road.

The LGBT Centre NGO is Mongolia's first and only LGBT human rights organisation. Registered in 2009 after a three-year battle with state authorities, in a country fraught with hatred towards, and violence against, sexuality minorities, the LGBT Centre is working to build a better and safer society for Mongolia's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

The mission of the LGBT Centre is to instill the democratic and civic value of the non-discriminatory upholding, protection and promotion of those human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Mongolia, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international conventions; to uphold, protect and promote the human rights of sexuality minorities; and to promote the correct understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity within Mongolian society.

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--so i have a couple of questions for you: in the united states, religious attitudes seem to play a big part in why lbgt folks face so much difficulty in simply living their lives and going about their business; the giant fights over discrimination in marriage and employment and the ability to serve in the military here are all struggles against religious opposition.

is that also true in mongolia, and if so, which religious groups are in opposition...and do any support your efforts?

--i have friends in egypt, and political organizing has always been a challenge because the government was always looking to shut it down. it appears that you're having more success, but...are there barriers that the government has put in your way, and do you find communicating and organizing in mongolia to be a relatively easy thing to do?

--finally, i stopped by your website, looking at stories, and was amazed to discover just how...versatile...????? is when you attempt to translate it.

my apologies, but the mongolian word i had entered appeared in the preview, but came out as ????? when the comment submitted.

if you'll kindly click on the link you'll see what i was talking about.

but now that we're having this moment, one more question: in the usa, once someone discovers their sexuality, they are more or less free to act upon it, and there's an entire cocktail lounge industry just waiting to help the process along.

but i know that in many parts of the world premarital sex of any kind is either frowned upon or pretty much unavailable.

what's dating like in mongolia?

so before anyone else asks questions as ignorant as mine apparently were, check out the centre's report to the united nations, which lays out quite a record of abuse and harassment by mongolian government officials.

We're proud to be a media sponsor of the IGLHRC's awards this year.

Robyn Garner | March 8, 2011 11:11 PM

Hello everyone.

Thank you all for your kind words. I am the Executive Director of the LGBT Centre. Otgonbaatar was going to reply to your questions himself, but he is busy preparing for his final visit to Geneva on Monday for the last session of Mongolia's UPR review. So I'll reply on his behalf, if that's ok.

First to Don's question about religion. This is not an area in which we have much of a problem. Buddhism is the predominant religion in Mongolia - so that means compassion and acceptance. There are however a growing number of proselytising evangelical Christian missionaries here trying to convert people. I won't say what I really think about that lest I upset anyone - except to say that their hearts and minds are as narrow as their beliefs and their dubious notions of acceptance. One local television station here, Eagle TV, is run by just such an evangelical. Eagle TV has amply demonstrated their love for all humanity in their treatment of us in the past ( Say no more. Suffice it to say they're part of the problem and not part of the solution.

The next question was about barriers to organising. Yes, we face these struggles every day. Negative attitudes are pervasive everywhere - it's no different among the government and government agencies. It makes for creative thinking and targeted advocacy on our part. This past year has seen doors that were previously closed to us now open. So this is a step forward. But there is a long road ahead in this regard.

The next question was about relationships and the ability to date freely. Basically, the community is still very much underground. There are no clubs at present (one lesbian has opened a karaoke bar - although it's not specifically LGBT, it has naturally developed a strong LGBT following). LGBT parties are organised in different locations every few weeks and are attracting more and more people.

It is difficult for LGBT people to live together as couples - there is a real risk of serious repercussions if it is found out that they are living together in a relationship. So most everything is kept quiet. In my own marriage, we spent years playing the "only friends" game. It is stifling as you have to take down any pics or ornaments/decorations or books that may give it away each time the apartment owner comes over to collect rent. It also means being careful what you say inside your apartment as the walls are thin and it doesn't take much for neighbours to overhear your conversations. Basically, caution is the rule.

So no pride marches in Mongolia yet. But who knows, the next generation may well be marching down the streets of Ulaanbaatar waving rainbow flags.

It's important to remember that we are dealing with generational change - and that means that progress will take time. But we will get there.

Thank you all again for your support and encouragement. We really appreciate it.

Best wishes,


(aka Robyn Garner, LGBT Exec. Dir.)