On June 9th, Nikos Giannopoulos was honored with the title of 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year at a surprise ceremony. He’s a special education teacher who teaches arts, science, and mathematics, as well as serving as a coordinator for Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in Woonsocket. He also sponsors the Gay Straight Alliance and is known for his caring, kindness, and commitment to his students.
But today it’s another surprise moment that is taking the internet by storm when he chose to strike a “fierce pose” next to Trump and Melania in the Oval Office, holding a black lace fan that belongs to his partner of ten years.
When Donald Trump saw the fan, he commented on Nikos’s “good style,” and though a White House aide asked him to put it away for his photo, he asked Trump if he minded, and Trump allowed it for the photo.
“To be clear, the whole thing was surreal and very brief,” Giannopoulos told The Washington Post. “I was visibly queer in the Oval Office, and no one can take that away from me.”
Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator from the Ocean State was proud to share the photo on Twitter:
Rhode Island’s Teacher of the Year, Nikos Giannopoulos, keeps making us proud! https://t.co/pNPKRi50u3
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) June 16, 2017
Another Twitter user stated, “Finally, something #fabulous out of #Trump’s #WhiteHouse!”
Nikos posted the picture to Facebook with a detailed account of what really took place, without resorting to using Trump’s name.
Here is an excerpt:
On Wednesday, when I met the president as Rhode Island’s State Teacher of the Year, I did not know what to expect. After a lengthy security process, we were welcomed into the Roosevelt Room where we each met Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Shortly thereafter, we walked into the Oval Office. The man seated at the desk read prepared remarks from a sheet of paper and made some comments about CEOs and which states he “loved” based on electoral votes that he had secured. He did not rise from his seat to present the National Teacher of the Year with her much deserved award nor did he allow her to speak. We returned to the Roosevelt Room and one by one got a photo with him and his wife. After what amounted to a brief photo op, we were ushered out of the West Wing and back onto the streets of DC.
Nikos wore a rainbow pin to represent the LGBTQ community, he says “has taught me to be proud, bold, and empowered by my identity – even when circumstances make that difficult.” The black lace fan that has caused such a stir was chosen “to celebrate the joy and freedom of gender nonconformity.” He also accessorized with an anchor necklace, symbolizing Rhode Island’s motto: “Hope,” inspired by Hebrews 6:19 – “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Unfortunately, Nikos was not allowed to speak to the president as in past years, but he stated that if he had been able, he knew exactly what he would say:
“[…]…I would have told him that the pride I feel as an American comes from my freedom to be open and honest about who I am and who I love. I would have told him that queer lives matter and anti-LGBTQ policies have a body count,” said Nikos.
He went on to acknowledge “politicians callously attacking our right to love or merely exist in public spaces; legalized discrimination for daring to be who we are.”
He also said the most memorable part of the experience wasn’t meeting Trump:
“When I think back to my time in the White House, I will not remember the person seated at the desk,” he wrote on Facebook.
Instead, he remembered those who sang the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the ceremony and the presentation of handwritten letters from refugee students who pleaded with Trump to hear their voices. He remembered touring the African-American History Museum, and how their example of resistance in challenging the status quo has led to progress for Civil Rights –progress that he believes teachers are well-equipped to continue in their efforts to help marginalized communities.
In his Washington Post interview, Nikos remarked on the attention he has received from his photo, though his attire wasn’t out of character from his typical style in the classroom:
“The issue with being openly queer is our existence is constantly politicized,” he said. “They never stop to think: Oh, maybe that’s just who I am.”
— Paolo Prossen (@Prossen) June 16, 2017
Scottish-American actor, singer, dancer, presenter, and writer, John Barrowman corrected himself, “Let’s be clear. He’s teacher of the year. Not gay teacher of the year. JB”
— John Barrowman MBE (@JohnBarrowman) June 17, 2017
Thanks to Nikos Giannopoulos for your commitment to resisting the current administration’s agenda to push back minority rights in America, as well as provide all students an accepting atmosphere for learning. Trump still hasn’t acknowledged June as Pride Month, but we’re glad he at least allowed your fabulous fan and rainbow pin. We salute you!
We’ll need more teachers like you to set an example of how to resist with style.
Featured image via screen capture from Facebook