President Barack Obama met with young people in London at a town-hall style meeting during his recent visit to the United Kingdom. He spoke about the relationship between the UK and the United States, and he encouraged the audience to fight for social change and stand by their principles. Following his speech, the president took questions from the audience.
— Horticultural Halls (@The_RHH) April 26, 2016
Two of those questions came form Maria Munir and Awnit Singh, and both focused on tackling discrimination. Munir, a student of Pakistani-Muslim background running for local election, asked “What could you do to go beyond what is accepted as the LBGTQ rights movement including people who are outside the social norms?” and prefaced the question by bravely coming out to Obama as non-binary. Non-binary describes a person who does not identify within the binary of male and female.
Watch the question being asked and Obama’s reply here:
In an interview with Channel 4 News after the event, Munir expressed a wish to be referred to with the pronoun “they” and talked about how they identify and how their parents reacted after they came out to the U.S. President. Watch the interview here:
Here’s Munir telling BBC Newsbeat more on why they chose that moment to come out as non-binary:
“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. “
Near the end of the Q&A session, Obama said that he had time for one more question. Noticing Awnit Singh in the back, he indicated that he would take the last one from “the Sikh gentleman.” In White House video of the event, the question starts about 1:07:40.
Awnit Singh has written at Daily Sikh Updates about the experience of posing his question to Obama, and how he became very nervous.
My mind went blank – I did not even say my name, forgot what I wrote in my little diary, held in my hand, and blurted out about attacks against minorities, and why, unlike Justin Trudeau, who has just come into power, Mr. Obama has not taken a full on stand against such issues. For example, many Sikhs are discriminated by the TSA. His reply was rather satisfactory.
In his reply to Singh, the president acknowledged that while it is not his administration’s policy, the reality is that TSA officials have targeted Sikhs for secondary screenings based on how they look. Here’s the text of the reply, provided by whitehouse.gov:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hold on. Before everybody starts applauding that question — (laughter) — let’s make sure that we’re on the same wavelength in terms of facts. I have taken an adamant stand against making sure that we’re not racially profiling in airports. And it is explicit TSA policy not to racially profile.
Now, does that mean that out of the hundreds of airports and thousands of TSA officials that there has not been times where a Sikh is going through the airport and somebody targets them for a secondary screening because of what they look like? Of course that’s happened. But that’s not my administration’s policy. And I’m happy to provide you with chapter and verse as to why we have taken an explicit stand against this.
— Awnit Singh (@AwnitSingh) April 24, 2016
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