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Growing up gay in Mongolia

Growing up gay in Mongolia

Jack Ganbaatar grew up in Mongolia

My name is Dorjjantsan but my friends call me Jack. I am 26 this year and I was born in the western part of Mongolia. My parents were herders when I was a child. I lived as a nomadic herder until the age of 5, when I started attending kindergarten.  

My parents and I moved to the biggest city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, when I was 9. I have lived there for 17 years now.

I can’t remember exactly when I became aware of my sexuality: I don’t think I even knew that gay people or homosexuality existed until I was around 13. Until then, I think I was ignoring my feelings because I didn’t know that it was possible for a boy to be attracted to another boy.

Learning about sexuality on the internet

At 13, I was introduced to the internet and began to find out things for myself. For me, accepting my feelings was not a problem, but I felt I had to hide them because of attitudes here in society – and that was hard.  

I hated being bullied when I was in high school. I knew that I was being bullied for being gay, but I never hated myself. In this sense, I consider myself lucky. Established in 2007, the Mongolian LGBT Centre officially registered in 2009, and I grew up inspired by the bravery and passion of the people there.

I still remember a talk show that featured the Centre’s co-organizers. They talked about LGBT issues for the first time on national TV in 2009. At that time I was in high school. That show completely changed my life.

I had no role models while growing up when younger, until I became aware of those activists. Especially the ones who worked at the LGBT Centre. We still have no out celebrities or artists in Mongolia. Although our community is achieving some visibility in Mongolia’s fashion industry recently. We have several trans figures who are helping change perspectives in society.

Daily stigma and discrimination

Local media is not an ally to the LGBT movement. The LGBTI community and issues are usually portrayed in a negative light. Attitudes towards the LGBTI community in Mongolia remain challenging. The LGBTI community here suffers on a daily basis because of stigma and discrimination.

The majority of LGBTI people remain closeted due to the fear of losing their job or falling victim to hate crime. Since the LGBT Centre opened, there have been major changes.

Thanks to the centre’s advocacy and hard work, Mongolia became one of the first Asian countries to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in its new criminal code in 2017.

[Mongolia now has anti-discrimination laws in respect to hate speech, but not for employment or the provision of goods and services. Same-sex activity is legal but people of the same gender cannot marry – Editor].

Even though the LGBTI movement is relatively new in Mongolia, society is changing pretty fast. Younger generations have begun to live more out, proud and visible lives – particularly on social platforms. This further raises awareness about LGBTI people.

Coming out to friends and family

The first person I came out to was my best friend. I came out to him after we graduated high school in 2011. He supported me and accepted me for who I am. His reaction boosted my confidence.

Then, I met my first boyfriend in 2014 when I was 21 and I came out all of my high school friends that year, as well as my sister. The reacted well and I experienced no rejection.

I finally came out to my dad in 2017 and it was also fine. However, he begged me not to tell my mom. He promised me he would tell her himself. He said he can help her to understand when the time is right, but I don’t know when that time will be. So I am basically out to everyone except my mom.

It sometimes seems funny to me that I worked at the LGBT Centre, started advocating for LGBTI rights in Mongolia and lived with my ex boyfriend for four years and my mother still thinks I am straight. When I tell other people about my mom to people, they say, ‘Come on, your mom knows.’ I think they are right: she knows.

Many in Mongolia stay in the closet

Despite changes, LGBTI people still face all sort of challenges here: from the denial of public services to hate crime. For LGBTI youths and adolescents, peer bullying is the biggest problem.

For the trans community, unemployment is the biggest challenge they face, along with access to trans healthcare. There continue to be cases where public services have been denied to LGBTI people, including medical services and fair trials.

Since the majority of LGBTI community members remain closeted, isolation and loneliness is a big problem too, I believe.

Jack Ganbaatar
David Hudson Jack Ganbaatar says not many Mongolian men use their images dating apps (Photo: Gonto Erdeneburen)

Finding a date and anonymous Grindr users

I stopped hiding myself long ago and am out and proud. I am surrounded by very open-minded people and all of my friends accepted me. But when it comes to dating, it is really hard.

Since my last relationship ended, just finding a date is very difficult. In Mongolia, if you are out, there are not many gay people who wants to be seen with you.

When you open gay apps like Grindr for example, you will not see anyone who’s using their picture or identity. When they recognize me as a guy who works at the LGBT Centre or find out I am an out gay person, they immediately block me.

Since I hate hiding myself, I am out online and offline. But I haven’t found anyone who wants to date me since I broke up with my boyfriend. I feel sad, not so much because I can’t find a date, but that so many people are still living in fear and who can’t enjoy this beautiful life.

Looking to the future

For myself, the key to conquering negative feelings is to accept one’s self. Once you accept yourself, you start loving yourself and it leads you to self pride. If someone is still scared of being known as LGBTI by the others, that means they are probably still ashamed of themselves.

I graduated from the Mongolian National University of Medical Science last year as a medical doctor and I have worked at the LGBT Centre in charge of health programme for four years since. The passionate LGBT rights activists that I had chance to work with inspire me so much, and I want to continue fight for equality in Mongolia.

Next week, I am leaving Mongolia to study for my masters in Australia. However, once I finish my masters, I will return and continue to work at the Centre and to contribute to the amazing LGBTI movement in Mongolia.

Stonewall 50 Voices

Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community.

They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.

See also

LGBTI Mongolians ask ‘will you hug me?’

Mongolia kicks off sixth LGBTI pride festival, sparking online debate