LGBTQ Pride Month

High School Teacher Uses Presidential Photo Op To Share Message Of Self Acceptance

The photo has since gone viral.

When Nikos Giannopoulos decided to accessorize his photo op with Donald Trump with a black lace fan, a rainbow pin and a gold anchor necklace Giannopoulos says he wasn't necessarily trying to make a statement. He was more trying to be the person who he always is. 

The high school teacher named Rhode Island's teacher of the year visited the White House last April as part of a congregation of winners from all 50 states. He wrote on Facebook that his time with the president was brief, and they didn't really have a chance to talk. But since Giannopoulos posted the official photo of him and Donald Trump online this week, many are taking Giannopoulos' fashion choices as a conversation in and of themselves. 

"The entire day I was thinking about what it means to be in the White House and in the Oval Office," he told The Washington Post. "What it represents to be an openly gay person and a queer LGBT person in the White House."

The fan, Giannopoulos told NPR, was his partner's until Giannopoulos integrated it into his own wardrobe. While initially purchased as a souvenir, the fan has come to symbolize much more to the 29-year-old teacher.

"I have been visibly gay my entire life," he said. "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."

For Giannopoulos, one of the most important roles he has as a teacher is to foster that self-acceptance in his students. He wrote on Facebook that as he stood in the Oval Office, he thought about all the queer youth who have shared their stories with him and notes that the community at the arts high school where he works has never made him feel anything but accepted. 

"Every single day I go to the classroom energized and thrilled to be there and to have been elevated to represent all of the teachers in my state," Giannopoulos told NPR. "I'm not the best teacher in my state. I'm not the most thoughtful planner. But I do care a lot about my students and they mean a whole lot to me."

As for the president, Giannopoulos knows what he would want to say to Mr. Trump if he ever has the chance. 

"I would have told him that pride I feel as an American comes from my freedom to be open and honest about who I am and who I love," he wrote on Facebook. "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."