Embracing the LGBT Community in Mongolia

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As part of a series on the Leaders Advancing Democracy Mongolia (LEAD Mongolia) program, World Learning sat down with program participants to learn more about who they are, what they learned from LEAD Mongolia and how they plan to use their experience back home.

LEAD Mongolia is a two year initiative run by World Learning with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which aims to bring together aspiring leaders from Mongolia to the United States to learn about democracy, and how they can work together to tackle Mongolia’s most pressing issues, including corruption, poverty, discrimination, urbanization and the environment.

The 2009 rape of three transgender Mongolians was a wake-up call for many in the country. The victims, just 15-years-old at the time, were attacked by an ultra-nationalist gang, Dayar-Mongol, which The Guardian reported was on the rise in the country.

The trio was assaulted in broad daylight and taken to a cemetery just outside the capital Ulaanbaatar, where they were severely beaten and gang raped. One of the victims said their assailants threated to kill them if they saw them wearing female clothing again.

The teens did not contact police because they feared that they would not protect them, according to the LGBT Centre in Ulaanbaatar — one of very few safe havens for LGBT people in Mongolia.

In March 2010, the Centre released a mini documentary about the treatment of LGBT in the country, featuring this story. The day after the documentary aired, the gang members called for all three victims to be found and killed. Two of the victims fled Mongolia seeking asylum.

Prior to 2002, homosexuality was illegal in Mongolia. While 2014 legislation broadened the definition of a hate crime to include attacks against the LGBT community, they have continued to be victimized.

This kind of discrimination has motivated Nyampurev Galsanjamts, a fellow on World Learning’s LEAD Mongolia program, to help destigmatize the LGBT community. Galsanjamts is the executive director of the Human Rights Youth Health Support Centre in Ulaanbaatar. He says while acceptance of the LGBT community has improved, there is still a long way to go to ensure people feel safe and cared for.

“I want to help others who have been discriminated against in society which we are living in right now. There are critical issues related to the stigma and discrimination here in Mongolia. Discrimination in family, friends, school and the workplace, as well as when they try to get medical care,” he says.

Galsanjamts says many people are not educated about transgender people, and are not equipped to handle their unique health issues. “Transgender people have limited access to medical care because there’s no real narrative in the medical system for them, which represents a form of discrimination within the health system,” he says, adding that he would like to see more education for professionals, including medical doctors, on LGBT rights to help decrease discrimination.

His claim that LGBT issues are not widely discussed is echoed by a UN report that says nearly 87 percent of LGBT people in Mongolia hide their sexual orientation or gender from their friends and family. The report also highlights the prevalence of physical abuse against those who reveal their sexual identity.

However, Galsanjamts is optimistic about the future. “It may take some time to make Mongolia a fully safe and positive environment for the LGBT community, but I do believe that in the future, with continued hard work and advocacy, that everyone will have equal rights, and be accepted for who they are with no stigma attached.”

Galsanjamts heard about the LEAD program though an online advertisement, and was eager to take part to bolster his business skills. “By participating in this program I’ve become more knowledgeable about project proposals. As I am the director of an NGO, writing proposals is a massive part of my job.”

He says the idea of participating in a program for those between 25–40 years old was a key benefit. “In Mongolia, youth is only considered for people aged 18–24, and from my perspective, that shows a form of discrimination towards someone’s age. LEAD Mongolia’s program is open for people up to the age of 40, giving those people in that age bracket a chance to strengthen their own careers.”

Galsanjamts says the LEAD program created powerful connections among like-minded professionals, and a network of support and skills to better deal with human rights challenges.

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