London, April 24: A student who came out as "non-binary" in an emotional address to Barack Obama about transgender issues is being praised by the president for her bravery.
Maria Munir, a 20-year-old student at the University of York in northern England, stood up at a town hall meeting with Obama in London yesterday and said she was about to "do something terrifying, which is I'm coming out to you as a non-binary person."
She then went on to urge the British and American governments to "take us seriously as transgender people." Non-binary is a term used by people who don't identify exclusively as either male or female. Obama said he was "incredibly proud" of Munir for speaking out and encouraged her to "keep pushing" for rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
However, the president said he can't do much about a North Carolina law that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms conforming to the sex on their birth certificates and restricts protections for LGBT people.
Obama said he can't overturn state laws, and the current Congress is unlikely to prohibit states from taking such action. But he said his administration is doing what it can administratively and social attitudes are changing quickly.
After the event, Munir said the experience had given her the confidence to "change the world." "I cannot describe the amount of nerves and excitement I felt at exactly the same time. I started to feel the tears well up," she said.
"For me, aged 20, to be sat in front of the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, and to be able to pitch to him social action that I believe he can have a real influence on is something I will never be able to describe."