It's hard not to smile at the image of a young teacher with cocked head and elaborate fan posing alongside President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. Since winning the electoral college, with a little help from his Russian friends, Trump has filled his administration with an assortment of people who mostly look like him; older white "yes men" in Men's Wearhouse suits.
So, it was admirable that Nikos Giannopoulos — Rhode Island's teacher of the year — wore a rainbow pin and whipped out his partner's fan during his April photo op with the Trumps. Since Giannopoulos posted the pic on Facebook recently, it unsurprisingly went viral. Articles have been written about its significance, with Huffington Post initially covering the story with this headline: "Gay Teacher Of The Year Adds A Flick of Resistance To Trump."
Thankfully, HuffPo changed the headline to the more metered, "Gay Teacher Of The Year Fans LGBTQ Pride In Viral Photo With Donald Trump." As amusing as Giannopoulos's pose was, it doesn't feel like an act of "resistance." If whipping out a fan in front of an unstable, vindictive, dangerous, possibly treasonous president qualifies as "resistance," we're not fighting hard enough.
Giannopolous himself seemed to indicate to the Washington Post that some may be reading too much into his outfit and stance: “The issue with being openly queer is our existence is constantly politicized. They never stop to think: Oh, maybe that’s just who I am.”
The truth is that Giannopolous has done more good for this world than Trump ever has, yet he was forced to stand, along with Melania, like a mannequin behind the president's desk. Instead of shaking Giannopolous's hand or putting his arm around him — something Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would have certainly done — the lauded special education teacher was posed like just another accessory behind the "supreme leader."
Similar to that mortifying gathering where Trump's cabinet was forced to shower praise on him, Giannopolous had to basically bow down to a disgraced man. Trump's obsession with being at the top of the food chain was confirmed by Giannopolous, who described a horrifying scenario at the awards ceremony where the president criticized the states that didn't vote for him, refused to get out of his chair, and denied the teachers a chance to speak.
Sure, Giannopolous's fan was a half-raised middle finger to all of Trump's ridiculous pomp and circumstance, which the president probably knows is not long for the world (thanks, Bob Mueller!). But, a fully raised middle finger, so to speak, is what he deserves. Standing and smiling next to Trump is giving him deference; a tacit acknowledgment that his actions are ok. And Giannopolous knows the president is not ok, especially when it comes to education and LGBT rights. Since Trump rescinded trans-inclusive Obama-era education guidelines, he described his transgender students as "nervous" and "feeling they’re not going to be supported." It seems odd to accept an award from a man who's making his students feel anxious, unwelcome, and targeted.
It may also seem odd to target an inspirational teacher who refused to conform when meeting a president hostile to LGBT rights. This is less about Giannopolous and more about the word "resistance." It's Giannopolous's prerogative to deal with the president as he pleases, and to receive acknowledgment for all his hard work. But as this presidency spirals into a gutter that seemingly has no bottom, resistance will mean not giving an inch to Trump; including capitulation to his self-perceived and illegitimate superiority.
NEAL BROVERMAN is the executive editor of The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.