President Barack Obama spent the weekend in London. Feministing reports that during a town hall event with young people on Saturday (April 23), Maria Munir, a 20-year-old Pakistani Muslim student stood and not only addressed President Obama, but made a very personal declaration: “I’m about to do something terrifying, which is I’m coming out to you as a non-binary person.”
Munir paused, then apologized for getting emotional. As the crowd erupted into cheers, President Obama encouraged Munir to continue. Munir spoke about activism surrounding LGBTQ people both in the U.S. and U.K, then said: “Perhaps you could elucidate as to what you can do to go beyond what has been accepted as the LGBTQ rights movement, including people who fit outside the social norms.”
The President talked a bit about the barriers that stand in the way of him personally making changes, then spoke about where he thinks things are going: “You should feel encouraged just by virtue that social attitudes on this issue have changed faster than I’ve seen on any other issue. It doesn’t feel fast enough for you or for those who are impacted and that’s good. You shouldn’t feel satisfied. You should keep pushing. But I think the trend lines are good on this; we’re moving in the right direction, in part because of courageous and active young people like yourself.”
Munir also mentioned North Carolina’s HB2 law, which is receiving international attention for requiring people to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate. These kind of policies put those who don’t fit into the gender binary—like non-binary people—at particular risk for harassment, making Munir’s moment with the president particularly poignant.
Today, as the North Carolina legislature meets, thousands are in Raleigh protesting both for and against the bill. A group of North Carolina house lawmakers introduced a bill today (April 25) that would repeal the controversial law and establish a human rights commission.
While policies that allow discrimination against transgender people impact people of all races, trans people of color already face disproportionate policing, as well as poverty and other conditions that could exacerbate the impact of laws like North Carolina’s HB2.
Following the moment with President Obama, Munir told The Guardian: “I come from a Pakistani-Muslim background, and within our community such gender identities are not easily accepted. I was acutely aware of the burden and the pressure that would be placed upon my parents if I came out to them before now. I was thinking: how can I have the audacity to say this? But then I thought: it’s now or never—this is my one chance to really make a statement, and if I do then hopefully people from around the world will be able to unite on this issue, and maybe using the impetus we’d actually be able to exact some real change.”