BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It is the hardest part is choosing people. Young lady in the white — yes it is beautiful thank you. However you need a microphone. Here it comes.
AKKAI PADMASHALI, TRANSGENDER WOMAN: Mr. President. I wish you great success for the Obama Foundation. I am a transgender woman. My name is Dr. Akkai Padmashali. I was a Sex worker, I was a beggar. I was rejected by all the sections of society. I’m the black beauty and I love you.
OBAMA: Yes. Thank you. Okay.
PADMASHALI: Mr. President, I have so many issues to bring before you as a social activist founder of “Wonder Day” I was not able to come here today from Bangalore, Karnataka to Delhi because I was facing so much a financial crisis did not have money to travel here. I need to thank change.org for getting me here.
PADMASHALI: The issue is – the two things I want to bring one is the question, one is a request. The question is when the state terror of is against minorities be it a transgender, be it a sexual minority, be it a caste religious race minority when you – this community because no were of your reason and the patriotically notion that poverty is dominating against you and I want to take my strong objection on it, right?
The reason, like how do I speak? I am a criminal before the sections 377 which criminalizes because you are a transgender lesbian gay bisexual and how do I raise my voice against this?
The second is about the Transgender Protection Rights Bill where the government is not in the conservative democratic transparent way of discussing what exactly the community wants and not the government wants. If that so how do I raise my voice? How do fight against it?
That is my question to you how do I resolve the whole crisis? I think across the board we are sexual minorities as transgender facing social rejection, no negligent of the attitude. We are seeking for love, affection and acceptance that is my question to you how do I deal with that? My request, can I hug you?
OBAMA: Well, we can have a hug after this over. Because otherwise I’ll start –
PADMASHALI: Thank you.
OBAMA: We’ll be doing a lot of hugging and I will not be answering any questions. But you know it I can’t speak to the specifics of legislation in India because I’m not qualified. I have not been keeping pace with exactly what’s happening in the parliament around these kinds of issues but I can answer your more general question.
And I think the answer is it begins with what you just did which is to find your voice and to be able to articulate your views and your experiences and tell your story. And that’s true of any group that is marginalized, stigmatized.
Finding that voice and being able to tell a story so that the perceptions that somehow you are different, are broken down because people start recognizing their own experiences in you they see your humanity, right?
So this is one of the reasons why art is often a powerful tool in social change because what it does is through art suddenly people see for the first time oh, that black person feels like I feel or that woman is experiencing something that I should be able to understand. There’s something we have in common or that person of what has been considered an inferior caste turns up they have the same kinds of hopes and dreams that I have, right?
That moment of recognition is the basis around which you begin to build political movements. Once you — that voices there hopefully others join you right and so now you have that works in organizations and allies. And one of the things that I think is important in terms of any effort to bring about positive change is thinking about the allies that you are better available to you.
Your issue may be climate change or your issue may be gender equality or your issue may be public health. But the question then sometimes is can you find the intersection between those issues? Is there a way if you’re working on public health to engage with environmental activists because it may be that improving air quality is a key public health issue but is also key environmental issue?
If you’re a transgender person and you’re seeking — to be recognized and have full equality. Well you need to be speaking with women’s groups generally who are concerned about sexual assault right? And so forth and so on. So finding those alliances I think then become important.
And then once that happens it’s a matter of applying political pressure and being able to mobilize public opinion and that’s going to take some time it’s what we just talked about earlier in terms of how we can get discouraged sometimes because progress does take some time but you should take some measure of hope.
By just looking at what’s happened in the United States and in a lot of other countries around LGBT issues generally – again I’d like to think I’m not that old even though my years are low gray. But Michelle thinks I’m still cute. But you know when I was in college so this would be back in the early eighties.
It was just beginning for persons who are openly gay or lesbian to have student organizations. The laws on the books were still discriminatory across many states in the United States. And so now there is a just an open acknowledgment even among many conservative parties that we should not be discriminated against persons because of sexual orientation and that happened with respect to human history amazingly quickly, right?
In the span of twenty years basically now in the span of one person’s lifetime beckons seems painfully long. But it requires a steady education of the public and then a political strategy that puts pressure on elected officials and that’s going to take some time.