Equity & Diversity

Citing Anti-Gay Discrimination, a Teacher of the Year Leaves the Classroom

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Lexington Herald-Leader — June 28, 2022 3 min read
Montgomery County teacher and Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Willie Carver, in downtown Mt. Sterling, Ky., on May 11, 2022.
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Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, who is gay, says he is leaving the K-12 classroom “to make the most difference, and the discrimination and lack of support prevent me from making that difference.”

After 17 years being a public school teacher, Willie Carver Jr. said he decided to leave the classroom and take a position at the University of Kentucky in student support services.

Carver told the Herald-Leader – and UK officials confirmed – that he will be an academic advisor at the Gatton College for Business and Economics.

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Montgomery County teacher and Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Willie Carver, in downtown Mt. Sterling, Ky., on May 11, 2022.
Willie Carver is the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and teaches high school English and French in the Montgomery County, Ky., public schools.
Arden Barnes for Education Week

“I am very excited about this opportunity to continue helping young people in their quest for education,” Carver said in a Facebook post. “This was not an easy decision; I have cried quite a few times trying to make it over the past few months. But, ultimately, I have always wanted to be in the place where I can most make a difference in the lives of the next generation. I believe that UK is where I can do this.”

“I also increasingly find that, as a queer person in K-12 education, I have been unable to do that work without facing discrimination, heartache, and being a part of systems that cause harm, though I am immensely proud of my brilliant, hardworking, and fierce colleagues who have and continue to change that system in defense of students.”

In May, Carver told a Congressional subcommittee that he faced discrimination as a gay teacher and that hatred was the norm in schools. The panel was examining the wave of race and LGBTQ censorship engulfing America’s K-12 classrooms.

Carver, who had been teaching high school in Montgomery County, told the Herald-Leader that “vocal anti-LGBTQ extremists at school board meetings (and on social media) have been personally attacking me and my former students.”

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

Carver said he had been unable to find support from his school administration.

“Mr. Carver is a wonderful English and French teacher. We wish him well in his new endeavor,” Montgomery County Superintendent Matthew Thompson said.

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

Carter said he had been proud to be a teacher and had worked tirelessly for students and their families.

He said he found the resources they needed. He said his goal had always been to strengthen his community and teach young people to believe in themselves.

“I also know that I symbolize potential for some students. I symbolize potential for students who come from poverty, for Appalachian students, and for LGBTQ students,” said Carver. “Of late, I feel beaten down. I’ve withstood it, but it’s hard to find peace or happiness when you’re under attack. This is all the more problematic when a person is a symbol. I can’t risk breaking.”

Some schools are doing incredible work for their students and teachers who are racial or ethnic minorities, or are LGBTQ, he said. Some are not, he said.

“Some are doing harm, are rendering people invisible, are illegalizing discussions about queerness or blackness, are afraid to be allies for fear of political retribution,” Carver said.

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High school students carry a giant rainbow flag during the Come Out With Pride Festival and Parade in downtown Orlando, Fl., on October 9, 2021.
High school students carry a rainbow flag during the Come Out With Pride Festival and Parade in downtown Orlando, Fla.
Ronen Tivony/Sipa via AP Images

“A question that anyone in a system has to ask is whether they are capable of changing that system or whether they are perpetuating it. I believe that I am able best to work with a system that helps students by moving forward.”

Carver mentioned Tyler Clay Morgan, a former music teacher at Kentucky’s West Irvine Intermediate School who resigned after he wrote a message to students on his classroom board that later became controversial.

Morgan in April confirmed to the Herald-Leader that he wrote a message on his classroom board that said, “You Are Free to Be Yourself With Me. You Matter.” The message included a rainbow flag and rainbow colors.

“This is a message I always tried to teach every student too,” said Carver. “I know Tyler and I aren’t alone in this. Thank you to each and every person who has made me, their own colleagues, and their students feel that they mattered.”

Copyright (c) 2022, Lexington Herald-Leader. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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