LGBTI people fear coming out

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Despite reduction in the occurrence of discrimination, it’s still risky for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and intersexed (LGBTI) people to reveal their sexual orientation, stressed the LGBT Center.

Without a doubt, a growing number of Mongolians have started to broach topics related to LGBTI people, making it less of a taboo. More and more people are choosing to reveal their sexual orientation and gender identity, more talks and discussions are being held, and people’s attitude toward LGBTI people is slowly but progressively taking a positive turn. However, more is needed to address and eliminate social attitudes and prejudices still prevalent against LGBTI people.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. The Mongolian Criminal Code also outlaws hate crimes and hate speech through codifying discrimination as a crime in Section 14, with protected grounds including, sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite these commitments to uphold human rights, intolerance of LGBTI people is manifested in Mongolia in various forms, including ostracism, harassment, physical and sexual violence at an institutional level.

Mongolia's first and only nongovernment, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization for the rights of LGBTI people says these people face discrimination, persecution, ostracism, harassment, and violence from their families and peers on a daily basis. Apparently, the criminal justice framework alone is insufficient to pave a normal living environment for LGBTI children and adults where they are recognized as a person before the law, able to live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights.

This was a key challenge addressed at the latest Meeting on LGBTI People’s Rights and Legal Environment organized by the National Human Rights Commission and Open Society Forum. During the meeting, LGBT Center representatives provided insight into the lives of local LGBTI people.

“People are getting discriminated just for being different. Fighting against discrimination and violence should be a unified effort. There’s still an imperative need for state policies and actions for preventing discriminations and allowing everyone to exercise their full rights,” underlined A.Baldangombo, an LGBTI rights activist working as a legal program manager at the LGBT Center.

The center conducted the “LGBT situation in Mongolia” report in 2013 under the National Human Rights Commission’s request. The report played an important role in reflecting the voices of LGBTI people in the 12th Annual Report on "Situation of Human Rights and Freedoms in Mongolia”. Earlier this year, the LGBT Center conducted another survey to identify changes in the LGBT situation over the past six years.

When asked if they experience any social pressure, 43.3 percent of people who responded in 2013 answered “all the time” but this year’s survey showed improvement in this area as fewer people reported to have experienced social pressure. The next question was “Does the Mongolian society recognize LGBTI people?” and 95 percent replied “doesn’t approve at all” in 2013, but six years later, this percentage dropped significantly, with 41.4 percent answering that they have never been discriminated.

“However, this doesn’t mean the issue is resolved. It’s still common (for LGBTI people) to be verbally abused, get beaten while walking on the street, and getting slandered through jokes and jests. Our survey indicated that people are more likely to be discriminated by strangers. Revealing sexual orientation and gender identity still pose threats,” LGBT Center stated.

At the Meeting on LGBTI People’s Rights and Legal Environment, LGBTI people were given the chance to share some of the challenges they face.

B.Tsogzolmaa attended the meeting with her husband G.Bayarkhuu and spoke about a horrible experience she endured after a person who knew that she was bisexual disclosed her sexual orientation. She said that a group of people grabbed her on the street, shaved her hair, insulted and swore at her before inflicting physical pain. The harassment didn’t stop there, she said. Since then, they’ve repeatedly injured her hand, stabbed her and even burned her arm. She tried getting help from law enforcement bodies but they were of no help.

“After getting my hair forcefully shaved, I went to the police but I left without filing a complaint because they lacked understanding about LGBTI people and some even hated us. In general, LGBTI people are scared to go to the police after suffering from any kind of hate crime or offense. In other words, we’re scared that we’ll have to endure more discrimination,” B.Tsogzolmaa said.

This is an indication that Mongolia continues to be an unfriendly place for LGBTI people, particularly in terms of receiving police assistance. B.Tsogzolmaa added that because many people don’t understand their preference, their whole family is ostracized, her husband had to quit his work, and their children were forced to transfer schools numerous times.

Another victim of social attitudes and discrimination is B.Anudari. Students at her school who found about her preference constantly bullied and outcasted her. Unable to express her thoughts freely, B.Anudari says she became unmotivated to go to school and quit school.

The LGBTI people who attended the open meeting pointed out a wide range of challenges and obstacles but the most pressing issue they face is not being able to get protection or cooperation from the police. In particular, as police officers stationed at sobering up houses have limited knowledge and understanding about LGBTI people, they often – intentionally and unintentionally – breach the rights of these people considered the minority. Some transgender women claimed that police officers at sobering up houses didn’t care how they treated them and touched their body as if they were men.

This issue has seen significant improvement over the years after it was brought to the attention of the General Police Department and National Human Rights Commission, according to the LGBT Center. The two organizations inspected the issue and initiated workshops and training to raise awareness of police officers about the rights of LGBTI people. Now, the Sukhbaatar District Police, for instance, asks LGBTI children and adults whether they prefer to get a frisk, or pat-down, from a female or male officer.

The Mongolian community has made positive stride towards creating a friendly environment where everyone feels safe and protected regardless of their age, sex, vocation or rank, views, marital status or education. In recognition of this, it’s clear that Mongolia has potential to grow further in this regard and to do so, it would be advisable for the community to direct its anti-discrimination policy and actions toward the prevention of discrimination against and protection of rights of LGBTI people.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan