Heroes to be proud of: June 17, 2017

Dear Mr. VP,

It’s still Pride Month: your lack of acknowledgment has not stripped that away.

And in honor of Pride, I’d like to write about two heroes.

Rhode Island’s State Teacher of the Year, Nikos Giannopoulos, teaches at Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, which is only a town or two over from where I grew up. I’m just going to quote Mr. Giannopoulos himself, as there’s no need to try and one-up this poignant statement:

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….

On Monday, The Smithsonian Institution gave us the opportunity to tour the African-American History Museum. Nothing could have better prepared me for our visit to the White House. For nearly 400 years, Black and Brown people in America have lived under oppressive regimes that denied their humanity, stymied their progress, villainized their activism, and punished their success. The African-American community has for centuries modeled resistance to oppression and the value of self-worth. Because of brave people willing to challenge the status quo, our country has made great progress but the road toward true equality is a long one. I have hope that conditions will continue to improve for our marginalized communities and I have the belief that teachers are the people best equipped to do that job.


Troll level: expert. Thank you, Mr. Giannopoulos for standing up for your students and our communities, and doing it with grace and style.

Our second hero, Crystal Griner, is a Capitol Police Officer. She’s queer and she’s black. She’s married to a woman. And last week, she took a bullet as she prevented an all-out massacre of Republicans. She’s being credited with saving Steve Scalise’s life.

Yup, Griner — who might I remind you is a queer African-American woman involved in a same-sex marriage, worth repeating — took a bullet as she saved the life of Steve Scalise, a dude who authored Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage and reportedly described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”

Griner did her job and protected someone who hates her identity and actively works to oppose her civil rights. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is.


May we all take a page out of the books of Griner and Giannopoulos and stand up to hatred and bigotry whenever it rears its head. Happy Pride, Mr. Pence.


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