A Rhode Island teacher has become an overnight sensation after using an official photo opportunity with Donald Trump to put on a sassy and inspiring display of LGBT+ Pride.

Nikos Giannopoulos’ met the US President and First Lady Melania during a visit to the White House in April after being named Rhode Island’s Teacher of the Year, and a striking picture of the trio together has gone viral after being shared on social media this week.

The official photo sees Nikos – who sported a rainbow lapel pin for the meetings – brandish a fabulous black lace fan as he sports a sassy look of defiance just inches from the president on the floor of the Oval Office.

The special education teacher shared the picture on Facebook on Thursday (June 15), with a caption that included three rainbow emojis and the simple sentence: “Rhode Island Teacher of the Year 2017 meets the 45th President of the United States. That’s all.”

The image was shared thousands of times on social media in a matter of hours, while Nikos explained his motivation behind the fabulous look in a separate post.

“For my trip to the White House, I wore a rainbow pin 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,” he wrote.

“I wore a blue jacket with a bold print and carried a black lace fan to celebrate the joy and freedom of gender nonconformity.”

The 29-year-old educator continued: “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.

He added: “As LGBTQ people, our identities are complex, but our needs are universal – to be loved, to be respected for who we are, and to be fully equal citizens of the United States of America.”

Read a longer excerpt from Nikos’s inspiring post below:

For my trip to the White House, I wore a rainbow pin 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. I wore a blue jacket with a bold print and carried a black lace fan to celebrate the joy and freedom of gender nonconformity. I wore an anchor necklace in honor of the State of Rhode Island whose motto “Hope” was inspired by Hebrews 6:19 – “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” These words are as relevant now they were when our founding father Roger Williams was inspired by them over 350 years ago.

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.

Each day, I get the privilege of working with students who have found a safe haven in the halls of Beacon Charter High School for the Arts – a school where I have been fully embraced, loved, and respected by my entire Beacon Family. I have students whose families are true partners with me on their child’s educational journey. I have colleagues who inspire me and I have a principal who took a chance on someone with a small resume but a big heart. Truth be told: Beacon’s warm and loving environment has done as much for me as it does for our students every day. I have a Department of Education and former Rhode Island Teachers of the Year who believed in me more than I believed in myself. They gifted me a platform to elevate the voices of those LGBTQ youth who must still fight against brutality inside and outside the classroom.

As LGBTQ people, our identities are complex, but our needs are universal – to be loved, to be respected for who we are, and to be fully equal citizens of the United States of America.

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