In April, teachers of the year from each state descended on the White House to meet with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as well as President Trump and the First Lady. One of them stood out from the rest. Nikos Giannopoulos, Rhode Island’s teacher, showed up to the event with a rainbow pin and black lace fan.
At the time, Giannopoulos wrote on Facebook that he decided to wear the pin to the event "to represent my gratitude for the LGBTQ community that has taught me to be proud, bold, and empowered by my identity - even when circumstances make that difficult." While the fan was to "celebrate the joy and freedom of gender nonconformity."
And now, two months later, a photo from the the event showing Giannopoulos with the President and First Lady went viral over the weekend. People love the sass.
In his original post back in April, Giannopoulos described how things went down:
"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."
He went on to explain what he wanted to tell the president, if he had been given more time.
"In previous years, state teachers of the year were given the opportunity to speak to the president for a few minutes each. Had I been given the opportunity, 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. Taking pride in queer identity means rejecting the shame imposed upon us by a harsh society. It means opening yourself up to a lifetime of criticism and misunderstanding, but knowing that it’s worth it to be able to live authentically. Each and every queer person has been confronted with cruelty in ways many cannot imagine - verbal and physical abuse from strangers, friends, & even family; politicians callously attacking on our right to love or merely exist in public spaces; legalized discrimination for daring to be who we are. Brutality is a universal part of the queer experience."
"I am one of the fortunate ones. I have been able to share the last ten years of my life with my partner who understands me better than anyone in the world. I have a mother who always allowed me to be myself, highlighting my best qualities, and building up my confidence as a shield to any bigotry I may encounter. I have a sister, brother, father, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law who have accepted, celebrated, and loved me unconditionally for my whole life. I have a chosen family of queer friends and loved ones with whom I have formed deep and supportive relationships that will last a lifetime."
He went on to praise his students.
"When I think back to my time in the White House, I will not remember the person seated at the desk. I will remember the bravery of AB Wright who led our cohort in singing the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. I will remember the gorgeous singing of Kelisa Wing who commanded the attention of everyone in the Oval Office. I will remember the quiet dignity of Valerie Gates who presented the president with handwritten letters from her refugee students, pleading with him to hear their voices. I will remember when the gravity of our situation hit Michelle Bugh Doherty all at once, and she burst into tears, representing what we were all feeling in that moment. In this role, you represent so much more than yourself. Many of our 2017 Teachers of the Year have had to overcome structural barriers of race, gender, socioeconomic status, home language, immigration status, sexual orientation, and much more. Most of us could never have imagined being in this position, representing not only the talented and hardworking teachers of our states, but also the students and families we fight for every single day."
"As I stood in the Oval Office, I thought of Liam, Eliese, Dante, Matt, Abby, Patrick, Rhett, Shane, John, Jay, Jake, D’Andre, Emery, Bailey, Tyler, Amber, Jared, Lenna, Cameron, Caitlin, Unique, Savannah, David, CJay and so many more of the queer youth who have shared their struggles and triumphs with me. Each of these brave young people have made an impact on my life and I carry their stories with me wherever I go. Everything I do in this role as Rhode Island Teacher of the Year is for them."
In an interview with NPR this weekend after the post went viral, Giannopoulos explained that President Trump loved the fan:
"Oh, he loved it! I popped it open when I walked into the office because I'm a very sassy person. And [President] Trump complimented it right away. He said, 'I love the fan!' And he told me I had great style. Then, when I was ushered in for my private photo with the president and Melania [Trump] I was told I should put it away. So I just folded it up and held it at my side. But when it came time for the photo, I just asked the president, 'Do you mind if I use the fan for the photo?' He said, 'Absolutely go for it.' So I popped my fan and did my pose."
And that he's overwhelmed by the response the photo is getting.
"It's been really overwhelming because I am a really socially anxious person. I don't ever really go on social media that much. The only reason I'm on Facebook as much as I am this year is because it's the primary way I communicate with the other teachers of the year."
"But overall, I've gotten a really positive response through the whole thing. From younger people I get a lot of, 'You're my hero!' And a lot of 'Werk Kween! which makes my day."