Nearing the end of two terms in office, President Obama has found himself engaged in conversation on all sorts of topics. But during his final visit to the U.K. as president, Obama unexpectedly had a very public conversation about a deeply personal issue.
While Obama was taking questions at a televised town hall meeting in London, a student boldly came out to him as non-binary.
"I'm about to do something terrifying — I'm coming out to you as a non-binary person, which means I don't fit," Maria Munir, a student at the University of York, told Obama as the crowd cheered her on. "I come from a Pakistani-Muslim background, which inevitably has cultural implications."
Munir pressed Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron to take transgender issues seriously, juxtaposing the ongoing bathroom bill debate in the U.S. with the U.K.'s own lack of protection for non-binary people.
"I know that in North Carolina with the bathroom bill people are being forced to produce birth certificates in order to go the toilet. In the U.K., we don't recognize non-binary people under the Equality Act, so we literally have no rights," Munir said.
Obama lauded the student and encouraged her to keep pushing for LGBT rights. It was undoubtedly a significant moment for Munir, who 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? Will the words actually be able to leave my mouth? Will I retract everything and sit back down?
Non-binary people occupy a space in society that is largely overlooked; they do not fit within the binary of male or female, existing instead in various degrees of the gender spectrum.
The way in which humans insist on strict binary gender identification has left out an entire segment of the population who are neither, or both at the same time. Although gay and lesbian rights have made incredible headway in the past few years, non-binary people are continuously subjected to some of the worst discrimination in society.
But people like Munir are paving the way for a more equal society, and Saturday's public coming out is helping to disprove the myth that non-binary people do not exist.
"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," Obama told Munir.
"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."