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Coming out for LGBT rights in outer Mongolia

The founder of Mongolia's first LGBT rights organization, Mongolian LGBT Centre, talks to Gay Star News
Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel and Munkhzaya Nergui accept a Felipa de Souza Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in 2011

Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, executive director of Mongolia LGBT Centre talks to Gay Star News about the struggle to get the organization established, achievements and plans for the first ever Mongolian Pride this year.

When did Mongolian LGBT Centre open? How did it come about? 

In 2007, the mandate to register non-governmental organizations (NGOs) belonged to the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs (MoJHA). At the time, MoJHA refused to register LGBT Centre, given the name of the organization was not recognized.

With the help of International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Human Rights Watch and other organizations, LGBT Centre proved that the term, LGBT, was internationally accepted and recognized. Despite the efforts, they did not give a positive response.

Again in early 2009, the Centre restarted the fight to get registered and this time the mandate to register NGOs had shifted to the Legal Entities Registration Agency (LERA) of the Civil Registration Authority of Mongolia. Having turned us down more than ten times, the LERA gave us an official letter which said 'the name, LGBT, is against the Mongolian traditions and customs and has potential to set the wrong example for the youth and adolescents of Mongolia'.

Finally, thanks to both domestic and international pressures and in particular officials such as Ms Oyunchimeg, Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia (NHRCM) and Ms Oyungerel, Former Advisor to the President on Human Rights and Civil Participation, the Centre was registered on 16 December, 2009.

Did the struggle to get registered prepare you for the challenges ahead?

Yes, it was challenging and at the same time, it gave us a taste of what it would be like once we finally have our organization registered. Then the acceptance and visibility would be the next task ahead of us. The struggle to get registered made LGBT Centre friendlier and more collaborative with other fellow human rights organizations and individuals, both at home and abroad.

What has Mongolian LGBT Center achieved since 2009?

In the short time since its establishment, LGBT Centre has experienced various achievements, including winning a Felipa de Souza Award from the IGLHRC in 2011.

Most importantly, LGBT Centre was able to submit its reports on the LGBT rights situations of Mongolia to the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Committee Against Torture (CAT), and Committee on Cultural and Political Rights (ICCPR), which led to the strong recommendations that the Government of Mongolia is obliged to implement.

The recommendations are: 1) to amend the Constitution of Mongolia to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI); 2) to amend the Criminal Code of Mongolia to include the definition of “hate crime”; and 3) to legislate the broad-based anti-discrimination law to protect the rights and freedoms of its LGBT community.

The government expressively stated its intention to work on the issue in front of the international communities and that was one of the highlights or achievements the Centre has accomplished so far.

How are the plans going for the first Mongolian Pride in September? What will happen?  

LGBT Centre will be organizing a Pride week in September 2013 along with other MSM health and human rights organizations (National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia - NHRCM), and other stakeholders.

There are number of activities being planned such as, a parade, the country's first-ever LGBT film festival, workshops on safe sex, how to come out and training for police officers and law enforcement officials.

Together with the above-mentioned legislative initiatives and its processes, we see this Pride week will play a crucial role in raising awareness of the LGBT rights issues of Mongolia among the general public.

What's the average Mongolian's attitude to gay or trans people? 

Having been under the socialist regime until the 1990s, the average Mongolian person has no idea about what LGBT is about. The term has been introduced to the public by LGBT Centre and everyday we have to explain what our sexual orientations and gender identities are.

On top of that, macho society under the influence of Russia, ultra-nationalistic movement, traditional values, national security concerns and other arguments are obstacles to the LGBT community enjoying and practicing our own rights and freedoms.

One bright side is that the Mongolian society is young and we believe that we can change the attitude of the public slowly through educating the younger generation about human rights principles, democratic values and tolerant, forgiving human nature.

Is there ever violence against LGBT people in Mongolia?

Yes, LGBT community members have been the victims of hate crime, especially the transgender individuals. The cases are usually unreported as the victims are afraid of further victimization, both by the police and other authorities. Some cases go to the court, but are dismissed as there are no legal or judicial protections against hate crime currently.

How did you come to realize that you are gay and understand your family and community's attitude to that? 

I have known and identified myself as gay since my early childhood. It was difficult first to accept myself in an environment where there is no discussion or understanding about it.

It was my study-abroad experience which opened my eyes and made me more of an international being, then I accepted myself the way I am. As a product of both socialism and budding democracy, I was caught in between the two worlds: 'taboo' culture and somewhat 'free' world.

Thanks to the international experience and persistence, I am now finally liberated enough that I feel confident and comfortable to fight for the rights of my fellow LGBT community members.

Why did you decide to get involved with the LGBT Center? 

It was a natural process for me. Having graduated from university and lived abroad for 7 years, I returned to Mongolia to contribute my energy, time and knowledge to the future development of my country in 2006.

The situation especially for the LGBT community members of Mongolia was grim and basically it was the right time, place and circumstances that with the initiation of my lesbian friends, we co-founded LGBT Centre. Personally, I am a passionate, sociable, and active person that this work is perfect for me.

Are they any famous gay people in Mongolian history? Has the culture ever accepted gay or trans people?

There are some rumors about gay singers and entertainment people both in the past and now, but they never identify themselves as such and others don’t dare to out them. The culture before socialism probably accepted us, but only sub- or un-consciously.

Watch a 2010 documentary about LGBT rights in Mongolia made by Mongolian LGBT Centre here:

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