Nothing pulls together a Pride look like a lace fan.
Trump may be ignoring Pride month, but special education teacher Nikos Giannopoulos, 29, brought Pride to the White House for a photo op with the president and First Lady after being named Rhode Island’s “Teacher of the Year.”
“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,” Giannopoulos writes in a Facebook post, adding that he carried a fan “to celebrate the joy and freedom of gender nonconformity.”
Unfortunately, Giannopoulos did not have time to speak with Trump. “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,” he writes. “I would have told him that queer lives matter and anti-LGBTQ policies have a body count.”
Giannopoulos tells NPR that the fan, which his partner bought as a souvenir in Venice, is actually an everyday accessory. “I’m extremely campy and it’s a popular prop of mine,” he says. “I’ve taken it with me all over the country whenever I go on vacation, so that’s why I had it.”
“I have been visibly gay my entire life; I was more feminine than a lot of boys and I carried myself in a non-traditional gender expression,” he continues. “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.”
What did Trump think of the fan? “Oh, he loved it! I popped it open when I walked into the office because I’m a very sassy person. He said, ‘I love the fan!’ And he told me I had great style.” Giannopoulos was then told by officials to put the fan away. “But 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.”
Although the photo has gone viral, Giannopoulos hasn’t noticed negative comments on his public Facebook page. “Overall, I’ve gotten a really positive response through the whole thing,” he says. “From younger people I get a lot of, ’You’re my hero!’ And a lot of, ’Werk Kween!’ which makes my day.
During his White House visit, Giannopoulos also met U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has come under fire for refusing to uphold protections for LGBT students in private and charter schools that receive federal funding.