When people talk about a piece of digital media going "viral," this is precisely what they are talking about.
I am referring to the official White House photo that was taken the other day -- the kind of photo-op that presidents do day after day -- with Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump and the Rhode Island Teacher of the Year for 2017, one Nikos Giannopoulos, a 29-year-old special education teacher at the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts.
It's one of those photos that takes a few minutes to unpack, because Giannopoulos packed in quite a few symbolic statements during his moment in the spotlight.
However, the professionals at National Public Radio were TOTALLY up to the task, in terms of asking the questions that legions of enquiring minds would want asked -- with one exception that will be of interest to GetReligion readers. Hold that thought.
First things first, as described by NPR -- there is the matter of the "sassy" teacher's "fabulous" delicate black lace fan.
The fan was actually my partner's. He bought it as a souvenir on a trip to Venice, but I found it about five years ago. Since then I've integrated it into my day-to-day life. I'm extremely campy, and it's a popular prop of mine. I've taken it with me all over the country whenever I go on vacation, so that's why I had it.
But ultimately, I have been visibly gay my entire life; I was more feminine than a lot of boys and I carried myself in a nontraditional gender expression. And I got a lot of flak for it. As a boy, I think I internalized that and didn't embrace that part of me. Now, as an adult, I adjusted to my queer identity. So the fan represents self-acceptance and being unabashedly myself in a society that's not always ready to accept that.
Trump praised the fan from the get go, according to Giannopoulos. When members of the White House team questioned whether the fan was an appropriate element in this kind of picture, the teacher asked the president what he thought. The result was an image straight out of a music video (nod to Madonna, of course).
... 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.
The rainbow LGBTQ pin on the blue print jacket speaks for itself. Ditto for the nose ring.
But what about what NPR called a "silver and gold statement necklace"?
The necklace is pretty amazing, too. It looks like it has an anchor on it.
Yes. That's an image of Rhode Island that's prevalent throughout the state. It's on the state motto, which is based on a Bible verse -- that hope is the anchor of the soul. It's a beautiful verse that is relevant for people of all faiths and is especially meaningful for minority groups. For anyone in a marginalized group, hope is the last thing you give up.
Well, sort of. That sounds like a rather secularized version of a famous passage in Hebrews, chapter 6:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchiz′edek.
The discussion of this Bible verse is interesting, especially when combined with another important symbol in this story -- which is the teacher's name.
A GetReligion reader on the other side of the planet asked this blunt question: "I wonder what if any church he attends?"
I would restate that. I wonder what, if any, church he attends now?
The odds are high that his family -- on a cultural level, at the very least -- would have been Greek Orthodox or formerly Greek Orthodox. This is, of course, a church with ancient and very traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality.
Would I have asked the church question, especially after his discussion of the Rhode Island state motto? Of course. Would I have asked about his family? Of course.
But that's just me (and my media pal on the other side of the world) talking. Might there be an interesting religion wrinkle in this man's story and his moment in the media spotlight?