Why I came out to President Obama before I told my parents

Interview by Greg Dawson
Words by Felicity Morse


A 20-year-old from Watford who came out as non-binary to President Obama has described the "euphoria" at being given the chance to speak out.

Maria Munir, who studies at York University, was given the microphone at a Q&A for young people, which took place in central London on Saturday.

Speaking to the US president in front of a packed hall Maria said: "I'm about to do something terrifying, which is I'm coming out to you as a non-binary person."

The term describes someone who doesn't identify as male or female.

"It means that I don't fit because I'm from a Pakistani-Muslim background which inevitably has complications."

media captionHow it felt to come out to the president

It was the first time Maria had publicly identified as non-binary.

Maria hadn't told their mum or dad and became quite tearful when explaining why they wanted President Obama to do more for LGBTQ people in North Carolina.

The UK government has warned gay and transgender travellers to be careful in the US due to legislation in North Carolina, one of which states that transgender people must use public bathrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates.

'I felt like it was now or never'

image copyrightGetty Images

Speaking afterwards Maria explained: "It was something the president said about acting crazy - that if you need to get a social issue across sometimes you need to act a little crazy.

"At that moment I felt my pulse intensify and thought that I've been sitting on this issue for such a long time. I haven't come out to my parents, (I'm sorry mum and dad) I just thought, it anyone in the world is going to accept me for who I am it should be the president of the United States. "

Maria prefers to be referred to by gender neutral terms such as "they" and "their".

I started to feel the tears well up

"I just felt this moment of euphoria that finally I would be able to raise and highlight the issue that non-binary transgender people face.

"If anyone has the power to change things for people like myself across the world, it is President Obama."

Maria said their family history made the situation even more poignant.

"I started to feel the tears well up. My parents are immigrants. My granddad did manual labour in Pakistan. My dad worked as a manual labourer in Saudi Arabia before coming here to start a business with literally nothing.

"For me, aged 20, to be sat in front of the president of the United States, leader of the free world, to be able to pitch to him social action..."

Maria hopes their parents will accept their decision.

image copyrightGetty Images

"They will be upset I didn't tell them and I really really am sorry about that but the emotions that go through your mind when you know that your entire existence isn't even recognised by the UK government is a turmoil I wouldn't wish on anyone.

"I felt like it was now or never - either I come out now to the president or I will have to stay silent forever.

"If I can use myself as a sacrifice, of maybe being ostracised by my community, maybe I will be able to prevent other young people from being ostracised by their community.

"I just want to do my degree - I don't want to have my community say I am not a good enough Muslim or that I am betraying them.

"I apologise to my parents because they mean the world to me, but I know that they will accept me when they see how much of a change I can have throughout the world."

For more help, you can visit the BBC Advice pages on Gender Dysphoria & Transgender.

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