Willie Carver Jr. was selected as Kentucky's Teacher of the Year for 2022, but he announced last week he is resigning from his position teaching high school and college-level French and English at Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling and leaving the profession due to the increasing hostility to LGBTQ+ teachers and students.
"The new anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is complicated," Carver, 37, tells The Advocate. "It's a dangerous game of policy and culture, and it clearly craves sacrifice."
Carver says it's the most vulnerable students who are most at risk and left out.
"We have to create and maintain space for people who are in ways different to the norm, especially our kids, who are vulnerable," he says. "Our country allows and respects hatred at the moment as a valid political identity, and this has serious consequences."
Carver, who has taught for 12 years, says the decision to resign has been heartbreaking but had been under consideration for some time.
Carver aired his feelings on the state of education for LGBTQ+ folks earlier this year in an opinion piece that ran in Education Week. He noted how the hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community in general as well as toward queer educators really increased around the time Donald Trump assumed office as president.
"I feel unsafe to return to the classroom," Carver wrote in the piece that ran in April, explaining that his "identity as a human being is a teacher."
But recent events changed the nature of his position and caused him to question his choice of a profession. Accusations made online by adults that he was a "groomer" that then went unchallenged by school administrators were the final event that drove his decision.
"But I'm increasingly thinking, why am I in the classroom?" Carver wrote. "Because I think it will change things. I think it will be a force for good. But what is the effect? If I am, every few weeks, having to stop and undergo some sort of investigation over what's happening in my class, I'm not going to be mentally able to do this work. And then what are my students seeing? A stressed-out, unhappy LGBTQ adult. I don't think that's what they need to see."
Carver is leaving his teaching job for an administrative position at the University of Kentucky.
"There is a major emphasis on student support, diversity, and inclusion. It's a tremendous university," he says.
The departure has not been easy, though, and one of his main concerns now is for the rural LGBTQ+ students who are left without a role model or voice for the community within their school.
"I would tell those kids that they are 100 percent, without question, worthy of love and will find a place in life to shine and succeed, to create a beautiful image in their heads and hold on to it," Carver tells The Advocate. "It will come true. And, above all, connect, even if online, to people like them who will remind them that they are good enough exactly as they are."
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