A student and gender equality campaigner has been praised for coming out as non-binary on live television, before telling US President Barack Obama of the wish that he and David Cameron would “take transgender people seriously”.
An emotional Maria Munir, 20, whose parents were not yet aware of this, used the town-hall style event in central London as an opportunity to urge the US President to do more for transgender rights.
Maria told Mr Obama: “Now I'm about to do something terrifying… I'm coming out to you as a non-binary person, which means that I don't fit… I'm from a Pakistani-Muslim background which inevitably has cultural implications.”
Maria continued: “In the UK we don’t recognise non-binary people under the Equality Act, so we literally have no rights.”
Despite being a university student and running for local elections in Watford, Maria explained about finding time to work with the civil service fast stream on transgender issues, before asking Mr Obama: “What could you do to go beyond what is accepted as the LGBTQ rights movement?”
Mr Obama praised Maria's work on this issue, and said: “You should feel encouraged just by virtue of the fact 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.”
He also said that the UK prime minister is “ahead of the curve” on LGBTQ issues compared to many other world leaders.
However, speaking afterward the event Maria expressed disappointed with the President’s response. ”The reason is because I've been imagining this situation for quite some time so it's never going to live up to that.
“But his answer, I felt, was not of the calibre I would expect of an outgoing President.“
“In order to really be the face of change, he really needs to start doing something about transgender rights, because the T in LGBT has been ignored for a very long time.”
Maria added: “I've been sitting on this issue for such a long time. I haven't come out to my parents, so I'm sorry mum and dad, and I just thought if anyone in the world is going to be able to accept me for who I am it should be the President of the United States.
“I feel really bad because I'm so close to them, but unfortunately we live in a society where people who want to make the worst out of you always will.
“Unfortunately people in my community would never have responded well to this news. I felt that if I told my parents it would almost be a burden on them because they would feel as though they have to keep me a secret.”
“I took a huge risk to be honest doing this, because I know I'm going to go home and I know that people are going to isolate me.”
Stonewall’s Senior Communications Officer Matt Horwood told The Independent: “We applaud Maria Munir's courage in coming out so publicly, and agree that there is still lots to do to ensure non-binary people are accepted without exception.
“Part of this involves amending the definition of gender in the Equality Act in order to be inclusive of and protect the non-binary community. This is something that Stonewall has been clear on and pushed for.
“Recent law changes in states like North Carolina and Mississippi demonstrate how quickly equal rights can be lost, and while we should celebrate the progress that LGBT equality has made, we must not be complacent or ignore the work that lies ahead,” he said.
The US President has come under fire recently for not doing more to counter the so-called “Bathroom Bill”, which requires transgender students to use bathrooms according to their biological sex.
He explained that his hands are tied when it comes to state law because of the way government works in the US, but during a press conference with Mr Cameron he made his thoughts on the matter clear, stating: ”The laws that have been passed there are wrong and should be overturned.”
PA contributed to this report.
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