Metro Weekly

When a Library Refused to Carry LGBTQ Books, Willie Carver Started His Own

The 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year who quit his job over discrimination is making sure LGBTQ youth have access to queer titles.

Willie Carver – Photo: Facebook

“Schools are going to be harming LGBTQ kids,” says Willie Carver. “K-through-12 education in most states is going to be dangerous for those kids. And it is going to take all of us as a community to fill in the gaps that are going to be left.”

Carver, the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year who quit his job over discriminatory practices, is back. Along with some former students, Carver is establishing a free library in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, that focuses on queer works the local library is refusing to carry.

The students approached Carver during his last year of teaching and asked for his help. They described how when they were in middle school “they got these [LGBTQ] books so that they could just feel normal for a moment and escape the world, to try to imagine a better one,” Carver tells Metro Weekly. “They would share with each other like a little underground network.”

The students asked Carver to help establish a library so others could access the books.

“It was such a beautiful moment where I could hear young people understanding the importance of books, who want to help other people,” he says.

Together, Carver and the students applied for an “It Gets Better” grant and received $4,000 to build the inclusive library.

After hearing an LGBTQ student at a neighboring school committed suicide, the students donated half of the grant to build a second library in their honor.

With the remainder of the grant, Carver and the students worked with a local bookstore to curate a list of titles. Carver reached out to the Montgomery County High School’s library with the list of curated titles and a note describing how they wanted to donate these books to the library. “If there’s a single issue, if there’s a title that you have a problem with, let us know,” he told the library’s administration.

After months of no response, Carver received an email stating that every title had been rejected by the library. None of the selected titles would be allowed inside its walls.

Carver and the students regrouped, finding a new home for the books at the Gateway Regional Art Center. They are now raising funds through a GoFundMe page to expand the makeshift library. So far, they’ve raised $4,200 on a $6,000 goal.

Books are available to everyone in person for browsing when the art center is open. However, only local students can check them out. Students are particularly interested in reading Heartstopper by Alice Oseman and Carver’s own book, Gay Poems for Red States.

Carver’s poetry reflects on his own experiences growing up gay in Appalachia.

“The earliest examples of queerness that I had were all daytime television because I didn’t have books,” he says. “There are multiple poems about Jerry Springer in my collection, because as a kid, I knew I was gay in fourth grade, and the only thing I knew about gay people was that they were monsters. I knew I would grow up to be a monster.”

But, he continues, “I also wanted to keep living. I would watch Jerry Springer and they would parade around these LGBTQ people. Usually they were jokes, but at least they were alive. I want our kids to have better than that.”

At its core, this library is about showing students no one is a joke because of who they are, let alone a monster. It is about showing the students of Montgomery County Kentucky that they matter.

“It’s hard enough to be a queer person,” says Carver. “It’s harder to be a queer kid, harder to be a queer kid in a rural place, and harder to be a queer kid in a rural southern conservative place.”

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