Meet A Young Activist Who Battles Relentless Storms for the Right to Choose One’s Own Identity
By Equitable Education Fund (EEF) of Thailand and UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education (UNESCO Bangkok)
Prominent Mongolian trans activist Enkhjin Ganzorig is currently a university student who has endured challenges and limitations posed by a society that refuses to embrace gender and sexual diversity. Enkhjin’s experience with bullying and discrimination at school not only prompted him to come out as a transgender person, but also to take up advocating for LGBTIQ+ education and gender equality through a wide range of activities.
Because Enkhjin is determined to be himself, his university life has not been easy and once overwhelmed him with fear, anxiety, and shame. In his opinion, only a few years ago the majority of people in Mongolia lacked any understanding of the LGBTIQ+ community; consequently, ‘bad words’ were commonly used to label them, or to casually refer to them in conversation. LGBTIQ+ children also did not have the courage to come out and be themselves in public for fear that they might be expelled from their homes.
Enkhjin expresses one of many frustrations he has felt over simple things, such as having friends. ‘Everyone wants a friend’, says Enkhjin. ‘I also had friends a year ago, but almost every time I came out to them, they would leave me and no longer see me as a friend. That’s why I was afraid to be myself back then.’ Because of his LGBTIQ+ identity, Enkhjin clearly was not accepted by other students at school. Being true to himself proved to be an obstacle in building friendships. In other words, he was repeatedly left behind, with nobody wanting to associate with him, or regard him as a friend, solely because of his gender expression. Consequently, as Enkhjin recalls today, he found himself pretending to be someone else in an attempt to preserve his friendships.
Eventually, it seemed to Enkhjin that his problems were not being solved the correct way. He increasingly was not able to overcome the upsetting feelings he experienced on a daily basis. As a professed Christian, Enkhjin prayed religiously but was opposed by members of the same faith. He also found himself crying frequently, and had to talk to himself simply to get through another day.
This conflicted behaviour characterized Enkhjin’s daily life until he came across The LGBT Centre (Mongolia), which would come to serve as a shelter for him, connecting him with other LGBTIQ+ persons and providing him with a safe space to share his feelings. Perhaps most important, he was given a chance to interact with people who encouraged him to be himself.
As Enkhjin recalls, ‘Luckily, I found The LGBT Centre and connected with others there. I could finally talk to someone and be myself gracefully at the same time.’
Social events at the LGBT Centre, such as movie screenings, also served to create a safe space where people could be filled with a sense of belonging, rather than suffer feelings of alienation. The main goal of all activities at the LGBT Centre is to promote hope and empower LGBTIQ+ individuals living in Mongolia. In addition, Enkhjin has an opportunity at the Centre to participate in various activities aimed at educating the public on LGBTIQ+ topics, including the production of podcasts, organizing group discussions, and planning annual events, such as Pride Month.
Enkhjin does not blame teachers or classmates for the hardships he faced as he was struggling with the expression of his gender identity. Although discrimination and negative attitudes towards LGBTIQ+ community can still be common in Mongolia, he says the situation is improving thanks to the awareness-raising efforts of The LGBT Centre. He also believes that the critical solution is to address society as a whole and ‘to equip people with the right knowledge in order to foster awareness of LGBTIQ+ individuals.’ As Enkhjin notes, ‘the right knowledge is important.’
Enkhjin also notes that before he decided to come out as transgender person, or before he engaged in trans activism, he felt nothing but miserable. The moment he came out, however, was the first time he felt human, truly alive, and happy. For Enkhjin today, these feelings constitute a sign suggesting ‘if we live true to ourselves, we can feel something other than sadness or fear. Coming out is bravery.’
Looking back, Enkhjin reflects on the importance of public awareness, stating, ‘Please listen to us, and believe us. We are discriminated against and underserved’, adding, ‘I think people should take our voices to heart and join us in making a change. It’s very simple, but also very important.’
Enkhjin emphasizes the importance for all people to be themselves. He believes that once we live honestly, we will understand our true passions, dreams, and happiness. Only then can people be devoted to realizing their dreams without worrying about whether or not they can be themselves or how to fit in their own society. The reality is that a huge number of LGBTIQ+ people are occupied by these worries, given that they are constantly oppressed. Their time has been taken away from them, and the chance to follow their dreams is a rarity.
In summarizing what he has learned from his own hard-won experience and insights, Enkhjin proposes that everyone should come to understand who they are and, in doing so, be able to follow their dreams. ‘That’s why education is crucial. In the future, I wish to see everyone achieve their dreams under an education system that is created to be inclusive, and [is one that] takes into account diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. It should aim to create awareness among students as well as teachers. If we instill in them the right information, people in our society will treat each other better.’
Enkhjin Ganzorig is a youth representative for the Asia South Pacific Association For Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), and UNESCO Bangkok’s nominated youth for the 2nd International Conference on Equitable Education: Together Towards Equity, held in October 2022, where he inspired nearly 4,000 individuals globally with his dreams of a more inclusive and equitable education system for every learner.
In accelerating the progress of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Education 2030 Agenda, the Equitable Education Fund (EEF), together with UNESCO Bangkok and partners, continues to create open and safe spaces for all, and where youth voices can play a role in driving a global agenda, advocate for young people’s rights to education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities towards equity and inclusion for all.
More about Enkhjin from this short documentary below (English subtitles available):