Rhode Island's Teacher of the Year has taken social media by storm with his unconventional Oval Office photo. Nikos Giannopoulos said his prop symbolized "taking pride in queer identity."
Special Education teacher Nikos Giannopoulos stole the show from US President Donald Trump over the weekend as an image of Giannopoulos posted of himself and the first lady quickly went viral.
The educator met the president and Ivanka Trump in April, after winning Rhode Island's Teacher of the Year award. Instead of the traditional, somber Oval Office picture, however, Giannopoulos opted to make a statement – by wearing a rainbow pin on his jacket and brandishing a lacey black fan.
In an earlier Facebook post, he said the pin was to "represent my gratitude for the LGBTQ community" and the fan was "to celebrate the joy and freedom of gender nonconformity."
"Taking pride in queer identity means rejecting the shame imposed upon us by a harsh society," the 29-year-old wrote. "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."
'The fan represents self-acceptance'
In an interview with public broadcaster NPR, Giannopoulos said that the fan was a souvenir from a trip to Venice, Italy – but that it had taken on a much deeper meaning for him over years of carrying it with him all over the country.
"I have been visibly gay my entire life; I was more feminine than a lot of boys…And I got a lot of flak for it…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," Giannopoulos remarked.
Giannopoulos added that the president loved the fan, and even encouraged him to use it for the official photo despite photographers asking him to put it away.
The teacher also wore a necklace with an anchor on it, telling NPR that he saw as a symbol of Rhode Island, whose state motto is "hope is the anchor of the soul."
"For anyone in a marginalized group, hope is the last thing you give up."
On social media, the response to Giannopoulos was overwhelmingly positive. Many saw it as a statement to an administration that has not been vocally supportive of the country's many minorities.