Video: York student comes out as ‘gender non-binary’ to Barack Obama on live TV

Maria Munir addresses the US President on gender equality. Photograph: Channel 4 News / YouTube
24 Apr 2016 @ 8.45 pm
| Politics

It was a brave, emotional and amazing intervention.

When York student Maria Munir had the chance to talk to the most powerful man on Earth, they seized it with both hands.

The University of York undergraduate is non-binary, which means they don’t recognise as either male or female.

On live television Maria told President Barack Obama:

Now I’m about to do something terrifying, which is I’m coming out to you as a non-binary person, which means that I don’t fit – I’m getting emotional, I’m so sorry – because I’m from a Pakistani-Muslim background which inevitably has complications.

‘We have no rights’

The third year politics student, who is also a gender campaigner, hadn’t even told their parents before telling the leader of the free world.

At an event at Westminster on Saturday (April 23), in which the President took questions from young British people, Maria said: “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 UK we don’t recognise non-binary people under the equality act, so we literally have no rights.

“I’m still at university and running for local election and at the same time I’ve managed to get them to respect pronouns, to commit to gender neutral toilets.”

President Obama listens to Maria at Westminster
President Obama listens to Maria at Westminster

Maria asked the US president:

“What could you do to go beyond what is accepted as the LBGTQ rights movement including people who are outside the social norms?”

Wiping tears away, the young campaigner sat down to a huge cheer.

‘Incredibly proud’

‘You should keep pushing’ – the president gives encouragement to his student questioner
‘You should keep pushing’ – the president gives encouragement to his student questioner

President Obama began by joking: “I thought you were going to ask to come here and dance with me!”

He then told Maria: “But look, I’m incredibly proud of the steps you’ve already taken to speak out about your own experience and to try to create a social movement and change laws.”

He said David Cameron has been ahead of the curve on LGBT issues, adding:

You should feel encouraged by the fact that social attitudes have changed on this issue quicker than I have seen on any other issue.

I know that won’t feel fast enough for you or fast enough for those who are impacted but it’s good – you shouldn’t feel satisfied. You should keep pushing.

‘A unique situation’

After the event, Maria was interviewed on Channel 4 News about life as a non-binary person.

The York student said: “I don’t think I’m a man, I don’t think I’m a woman. I feel as though I’m a human being, I’m a person.

“And for me, I have no gender. In my mind I’m outside the gender binary.”

Maria revealed they hadn’t come out to her family as gender non-binary, before informing the president and the watching world – “which is probably a unique situation to be in”.

But it was the perfect moment to raise the profile of the issue “and I’m glad to say it has worked”.

Maria was born with facial palsy, which has left the left side of their face paralysed, and campaigns to raise awareness of the condition too.

After the event, Maria thanked everyone for their support on Facebook:

I am overwhelmed by the continued support. Thank you all for your kind words.

I hope to continue fighting the good fight, using this life-changing moment to pass the baton to people throughout the world so that we can unite together and instigate social change.