Monday, August 11, 2014

Light ahead for Mongolia’s LGBT youth

Where do you see Mongolia’s LGBT community five years from now?

This is the first question which came to me as I attended the 2014 Mongolian LGBT Forum last weekend. Over the weekend, approximately 70 community members gathered for the first Mongolian LGBT forum. Transgender individuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, they all met to discuss and find solutions to current LGBT issues. It was also an opportunity to show their colors and exchange ideas in a judgment-free environment.

When you think about Mongolia, you think fast development, construction, transformation. What if this was also valid for the LGBT community?

In 2014, public and police harassment is still considered the most frequent human rights violation endured by the community’s members, followed closely by discrimination in the workplace, according to the UNAIDS’ Desk Review on the Legal and Policy Environment of Sexual Minorities in Mongolia released on Friday.
“I have rarely heard of a transgender individual in the workplace, even when they have a really good education,” G.Nyampurev, program officer at the Together Centre told me, “exceptionally, they work for NGOs and many have to turn to sex work.”

Furthermore, the marriage law formally opposes homosexual unions and most members of the LGBT community have not been able to have their couple status recognized for official processes.
But even then, the youth seems to believe in a change for Mongolia.

“Compared to other Asian countries, Mongolia is far more advanced regarding gender equality, so we have a good basis for LGBT and human rights improvement,” Batzorig Sukhbat, youth/trans program manager at the LGBT Centre told the UB Post.

Indeed, the LGBT community is not alone working on the amelioration of human rights in Mongolia. For the past several years, trade unions have been battling for greater equality and a safer work environment for women, a fight that could greatly benefit LGBT workers in Mongolia.

Alongside these efforts, reforms and amendments are being pushed by both women and LGBT NGOs for changes to the Constitution and Labor Law to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of criteria upon which employers cannot discriminate.

But for real improvement to happen, Mongolian LGBT need to take actions for themselves.
“Straight individuals cannot take actions for us,” emphasized G.Nyampurev, “we need to work for ourselves first.”

While this demand would have seemed a lost cause a few years ago, the popularity of the forum showed that it is possible for the community to take such a fight on its shoulders.

“Only two or three years ago, when we organized community training, no one would show up. Now, it is the opposite, we don’t have enough room for everybody,” added G.Nyampurev enthusiastically.

To many in the community, creating a sense of common identity is the first step towards change. Only after that, can they expect there to be a successful dialogue with Mongolian officials.

A number of community based initiatives have also been engaged to improve the quality of life for LGBT individuals.

Mugi, a transgender woman from Ulaanbaatar, started a business project to employ transgender individuals, but, as underlined by the Desk Review, economic and social support from outside the community has been very difficult to acquire and she is still searching for investors.

The need for a shelter was also raised by G.Nyampurev, stressing that not only are many LGBT individuals without a job, but also without a home.

Difficulties along the road, however, do not seem to scare this new and young LGBT community.
“We need to be brave!” proclaimed G.Nyampurev, “Never give up. If you are brave you can change everything!”

To which, Batzorig added, “I do believe in Mongolian people. We love democracy, we love human rights, so the people could make the change. In five years it is going to be beautiful, because we have youth; open minded youth!”

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