29/08/2012 | Writer: Heber Tito Galvez
Western phenomenon? Just imitating the ‘cool foreigner’? Kaos GL presents you with an interview with Mongolia’a LGBT Center…
Western phenomenon? Just imitating the “cool foreigner”? Kaos GL presents you with an interview with Mongolia’a LGBT Center…
This past August 7th I had the pleasure to meet in person with Otgonbaatar Tsendendemberel in the bustling Mongolian capital city of Ulan Bator. Otgonbaatar is the current executive director of the LGBT Centre*,Mongolia’s first LGBT human rights NGO, who kindly accepted our invitation for an interview.
Established in 2007, the LGBT Centre was finally given recognition by the Mongolian authorities in 2009 as the first NGO solely dedicated to uphold the human rights of the LGBT community in this landlocked country. The Centre’s work focuses on education and political lobbying particularly in the areas of anti-discrimination policies and equality of LGBTs under current law, as well carrying youth oriented advocacy projects and a support program for transgender individuals. Here is the extract of our conversation:
I am interested to know about the beginnings of your organization. How did the idea come about? Did you face any particular challenges?
Our organization was originally established in 2007 by the reunion of five interested individuals who had previous experience in the field of human rights, including myself. Up to that point, Mongolia lacked any kind of establishment working specifically in support of the LGBT community, reason why we decided to establish the LGBT Centre to cover this gap. Unfortunately, our first attempts to register the organization failed due to the authorities unwillingness to recognize us, a fight that endured for the next 3 years.
In December 2009, after various appeals from international human rights organizations as well as the direct intervention of the Mongolian presidential advisor for human rights, our NGO was finally registered and we have been working non-stop since then.
How was the initial reception of the now officially recognized “LGBT Centre” by the general public and media?
The acknowledgement of an existing LGBT community in Mongolia was pretty much relegated up to this point. The issue was not even a topic of discussion and this is something we wanted to change. In this year there were two specific incidents that brought into public light our struggles and the centre’s efforts to fight against any sort of discrimination: first, the publication of an article related to LGBT human rights in the most widespread English language newspaper; and second, the rape and attack that 3 transgender women suffered at hands of an ultra nationalist gang in the outskirts of the city.
The former was cause of great controversy due to the first address of this sensitive topic in mainstream Mongolia media. This was even more apparent by the amount of negative comments and hate speech the article triggered. In the case of the latter, this tragic event made obvious the violence and intolerance against this repressed community, a legacy we believe to be of the almost 70 years of Soviet influence. Fortunately, our centre was able to support the legal proceedings for 2 of the 3 victims who currently hold refugee status in European countries.
What is your organization currently working on? What are your main focus areas?
From an advocacy perspective, the LGBT Centre is currently fully committed to the following 3 issues: lobbying on the establishment of an inclusive anti-discrimination law; a constitutional amendment to provide public protection on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability; and a change of the criminal code where hate crimes are specifically defined.
We have played an important role at the international level by taking part in the discussions of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held in Geneva a couple of years ago. For the first time, Mongolian officials discussed LGBT issues at this important forum, where seven member states offered recommendations to our country for passing anti-discriminatory legislation that would enhance legal protections for sexual minorities. The UPR’s recommendations gave momentum to our work and we hope to keep pushing for this legislation.
Finally, we have in place a legal and support program for the transgender community due to unique vulnerability of this group. For example, we have created a partnership with a local NGO that has committed itself to provide appropriate medical assistance in their local hospital. This is particularly relevant since most medical personnel in the country do not have training in trans-individuals health issues.
Is there an existing collaboration between the Center and other human rights organizations? What about the dynamics with other civil society entities?
We have the privilege of working closely and in partnership with other civil society organizations in Ulan Bator. Particularly, we have a strong relationship with the National Network of Mongolian Women (MONFEMNET) who has been an active supporter to our cause. The close cooperation among human rights organizations was evident and further cemented during the UPR meeting in Geneva. In fact, the LGBT centre is currently part of MONFEMNET’s executive board.
“Cultural tradition” is the most common argument used to repress LGBTs, with Mongolia not being the exemption. What is your view in this respect?
Homosexuality in Mongolia is largely seen as a Western phenomenon, with the majority of the public believing that being gay is just imitating the “cool foreigner”. Additionally, the existing intolerance is mainly a legacy of the Socialist regime that our country experienced between the years 1920 and 1990, and that has nothing to do with our traditional Mongolian tradition.
For example, ancient Buddhist and Shamanistic practice not only tolerated but also accepted sexual diversity, which in some cases was seen as religious virtue in its own. Unfortunately, these traditions in people’s mind were lost together with the monasteries and other social establishments, which were banned by the Socialist regime.