Metro Weekly

Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year Quits, Citing Discrimination

Willie Carver, Jr. says he's resigning after 17 years as an English teacher, due to anti-LGBTQ attitudes and harassment.

Willie Carver Jr., Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year – Photo courtesy: Willie Carver Jr.

The man named Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year has quit his teaching position, citing anti-gay discrimination as one of the reasons for his defection.

Willie Carver, Jr., an English teacher at Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, for the past 17 years, announced in an interview with the Lexington-Herald Leader that he would be taking a job with the University of Kentucky’s Office of Student Support Services.

Carver attributed his decision to leave to his frustration “facing discrimination, heartache, and being a part of systems that cause harm” during his years as a public school teacher. He said he spent years watching administrators try to stifle LGBTQ identities, which he described as “death by a thousand cuts,” according to NBC News.

While Carver was able to teach without having to closet his identity, he said his employer ordered teachers to remove books written by LGBTQ authors from the school’s curriculum, defended students accused of tearing down rainbow Pride posters from school walls and shut down a student-led poll that aimed to gather feedback from students about the school’s climate for LGBTQ inclusion.

But Carver says the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was when administrators failed to address repeated harassment against him and LGBTQ students at Montgomery County High School.

In March, a group of community members began showing up at school board meetings, repeatedly accusing Carver and LGBTQ students of being “groomers,” on the grounds that by merely being visible and unashamed of their identity, Carver and his students were enticing or “indoctrinating” other students to begin identifying as LGBTQ or to begin accepting homosexuality as normal.

The use of the term “groomer,” which refers to the act of building relationships or connections with youth in oder to manipulate, exploit or abuse them, has recently been embraced by social conservatives and weaponized against LGBTQ individuals in the wake of a nationwide backlash against so-called “wokeness” or LGBTQ identity in general.

The term has existed for years, but particularly gained traction after Christina Pushaw, the spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, accused opponents of a parental rights bill prohibiting discussions of LGBTQ topics in classrooms — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents — of being groomers or condoning grooming by exposing young children to topics or issues they are too young to understand.

Prominent conservative pundits have taken the phrase and used it to refer to LGBTQ advocates on any number of issues, and it has been picked up by socially conservative viewers, who have repeated the often-baseless charges to demonize LGBTQ individuals, especially those that work in proximity to children.

According to Carver, members of the group verbally attacked him online, with one member posting images of him and LGBTQ students on social media, prompting a flood of homophobic comments and slurs. But school officials told Carver they couldn’t respond to every allegation online, or every time the community was upset about something going on at the school. Administrators also failed to speak or listen to the LGBTQ students who were harassed.

“The national rhetoric is turned up, and LGBTQ teachers bear the weight of a lot of hatred that catalyzes the vitriol,” Carver said. “he said. “It’s tiring.”

Carver told the Herald-Leader that he feels he can have more of an impact working for the University of Kentucky.

“I have always wanted to be in the place where I can most make a difference in the lives of the next generation,” he said. “I believe that the UK [the University of Kentucky] is where I can do this.”

Carver’s resignation comes a month after he testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about the lack of protections in schools for LGBTQ students and teachers.

“I’ve always faced discrimination as a gay teacher, and I’ve weathered the storm because my presence saves lives. Forty percent of trans people attempt suicide, nearly all before they are 25 years old. Just one affirming adult cuts suicide attempts almost in half,” Carver explained to the House Subcommittee. “Students now use anti-LGBTQ or racist slurs without consequence. Hatred is politically protected now.”

He advocated for Congress to pass federal protections for LGBTQ people, saying such laws need to be enacted quickly, since LGBTQ youth are in crisis.

“Year after year, I receive suicidal goodbye texts from [LGBTQ] students at night. We’ve always struggled to save those students, but now I panic when my phone goes off after 10:00,” Carver Jr. said. 

“We’re not asking for special treatment,” he told the House committee. “We’re asking for fundamental human decency, dignity, freedom from fear, and the same opportunity to thrive as everyone else.”

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