"I know I said I didn't want to go there one time, but I think it's a really special place," Rapinoe tells PEOPLE. It obviously holds so much power"

Two weeks after appearing at the White House to press her case for equal pay, U.S. women's national soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe tells PEOPLE the experience was "incredible."

"Obviously the White House is a really special place," Rapinoe says. "Generally. I know I said I didn't want to go there one time, but I think it's a really special place. It obviously holds so much power."

Rapinoe delivered a speech at the White House on March 24 in which she discussed her teammates' years-long fight for equal pay both within U.S. soccer and across the world — including their March 2019 class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The White House appearance, which took place on Equal Pay Day, was proceeded by Rapinoe's testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

To sit down with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden — along with teammate Margaret Purce — and discuss the team's concerns was "outrageous" because the environment felt so welcoming, Rapinoe, 35, tells PEOPLE.

American professional soccer players Megan Rapinoe (R) and Margaret Purce (L) have their picture taken at the briefing room podium prior to the event to mark Equal Pay Day in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 24 March 2021
Margaret Purce (left) and Megan Rapinoe at the White House on March 24
| Credit: Michael Reynolds / Pool via CNP / MediaPunch

"To be able to share that space and to know that from the very top that there is a space for people like me and there's a space for people like Margaret and there's a space for trans kids [showed that] President Biden is going to be thinking about ... policies in an inclusive way ... instead of in an exclusive way and constantly trying to cut people out," she says.

Megan Rapinoe
From left: President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden look on during remarks by Megan Rapinoe
| Credit: Shutterstock

Rapinoe was part of a group of female players who filed a federal labor complaint against U.S. Soccer in 2016, claiming they were paid just 40 percent as much as the men's players — despite generating tens of millions more in revenue.

She was also among the group of 28 athletes to file a 2019 class-action suit against the soccer federation arguing that the players — which included Alex MorganBecky SauerbrunnCarli Lloyd, and Rapinoe — were not paid equally to the men.

Three months after that suit was filed, the team won their fourth and record-setting World Cup win.

A judge threw out key claims in their complaint last year, however, citing issues with the women's contract. The players said they would appeal.

Rapinoe's March appearance at the White House, she says, "signals to other people that this administration has your back and will work to fight for you and ensure equality for everyone." It also allowed her to "geek out" in meeting her political idols.

"I was like a total kid in the candy store," Rapinoe says. "I got to meet Jen Psaki as well. I love Jen Psaki. I think she's an incredible press secretary. I don't know why I geek out about these people, but that was really cool."

Rapinoe says the mood was especially uplifting considering that it came in the wake of what she called "a really ugly four years" — a reference to the Trump administration.

Just ahead of leading her team to the 2019 World Cup victory, Rapinoe notably said she would not be visiting the White House if asked, to which then-President Donald Trump responded on Twitter: "Megan should WIN before she TALKS." 

Rapinoe tells PEOPLE, "There was a lot of really nasty things said, and words matter ... the way that you treat people and talk to people, the way that you talk to women, the way that you talk to kids signals to everyone how one of the most powerful people in the world— if that person is saying nasty things, people are going to take that as a cue."

"I think the genuine nature of the Bidens, just as people, is welcomed," Rapinoe continues.

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe
| Credit: Maja Hitij/Getty

Speaking with PEOPLE, she also addressed the recent spate of policy measures that aim to ban transgender participation in girls' and women's sports.

"It's sad and it's so cruel," she says, pushing back against those who say the bills are meant to "protect" athletes from transgender people. "It's just a political wedge issue."

"We're literally using child human lives to put in the middle of the wedge and it's just not fair and it's really cruel," Rapinoe says.

Adding that there needs to be a "more empathetic approach" when it comes to trans athletes, Rapinoe says that a ban on their participation in sports has "horrendous effects."

"It's totally disingenuous and it's really sad and we need to be really alert and attuned to this and fight every single one of [the bills]," Rapinoe says.

Trans people, the soccer player says, are "already playing sports" which, for young athletes, can provide a safe and welcoming environment.

"This might be like one of the places they go and feel safe, or they feel like they can just be themselves and who knows what they have to deal with in the rest of society?" Rapinoe says, adding a message for young people in the trans community: "You're beautiful. You're exactly how you're supposed to be. You deserve to be in all of these spaces."