Kentucky's reigning Teacher of the Year says LGBTQ discrimination led him to leave his job

·4 min read

Willie Carver Jr. spent more than a decade working at Montgomery County High School, eventually earning Kentucky Teacher of the Year honors earlier in 2022. He won't be in the running for the award this year, though.

Carver, who is openly gay, said he's left his position for a job with the University of Kentucky, citing discrimination he said he's faced working in the school system

"It has been a very difficult time to be a teacher," Carver told The Courier Journal.

The "breaking point," Carver said, came when a woman who attended several school board meetings earlier this year accused him of grooming children in the school club he advised, "Open Light," a student-run LGBTQ group that he said pushes for "systemic change" – members take part in cleanup projects, learn about the history of minority and LGBTQ communities and work with mental health resources.

William Carver Jr.
William Carver Jr.

"The response on the part of just a select few people and sort of the intensity of that, specifically coming to board meetings and doing things on social media, I think that was an added layer that really just makes it difficult to find happiness," Carver said.

Carver taught English and French at Montgomery County High School, just east of Lexington and a little over 100 miles from Louisville.

Carver doesn't know the woman who spoke out against him, he said. He doesn't know if she is a parent of a student or related to a teacher in the district.

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Other parents reached out to Montgomery County Schools to call on the district to stop her from making more accusations about Carver and students in the group, he said. Carver told district leaders that the conflict was "an issue of misinformation," he said, that could have been used as an opportunity to educate and inform the club's critics about Open Light and its purpose.

Instead, according to Carver, the district told him to call the police if he feared for his safety and "something to the effect of the school can't intervene every time someone says something negative on social media about something happening at the school," he told The Courier Journal.

Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Matt Thompson did not comment about Carver's statement, other than to say he'd had a positive impact on the district.

"Mr. Carver is a wonderful English and French teacher," Thompson said. "We wish him well in his new endeavor."

Carver's been vocal about his beliefs, and said the latest incident wasn't an isolated occurrence. He testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties last month about the importance of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Equality Act, according to the National Education Association, which requires schools to work to prevent bullying and harassment among students.

He wore glasses with rainbow frames as he spoke at the hearing, breaking down the discrimination he said he's faced as a gay teacher and the lies and criticism that had been spread about him on social media. LGBTQ students are often under intense pressure, too, he said — "school is traumatic," he said, criticizing district leadership for its attitude as well.

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"I’m from Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, and met the President of the United States. My school didn’t even mention it in an email," he told the committee. "This invisibility extends to all newly politicized identities. Our administrators’ new directive is 'nothing racial.' Parents now demand alternative work when authors are black or LGBTQ. We are told to accommodate them, but I can’t ethically erase Black or queer voices."

Carver also spoke about Tyler Clay Morgan, a Kentucky music teacher who resigned after the backlash he received for writing on a school board “You are free to be yourself with me. You matter,” along with an LGBTQ rainbow flag and a flag representing the transgender community drawn above to the message. In a Facebook post, Carver said his students gave him a gift earlier this year — a piece of wood that displayed the same message Morgan wrote on the board.

In the meantime, Carver is moving up to higher education at nearby UK in Lexington. The university confirmed last week that Carver will serve as the academic advisor at the Gatton College of Business and Economics beginning Friday, according to Michelle Lowe, director of marketing and communications.

"What I'm really, really impressed by is how hard they're working for first-generation students – how hard and how much energy they're putting into making sure that UK is for all of Kentucky. That vision, I think, is going to set the tone for the state for the next decade," Carver said.

"And I really want to be a part of that. I really want all of us to start thinking more about the ways that we can leverage education to better help our students in all Kentucky because I think that's a conversation we don't have enough."

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Carver testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Reach Ana Rocío Álvarez Bríñez at abrinez@gannett.com; follow her on Twitter at @SoyAnaAlvarez

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Teacher of the Year Willie Carver quits over LGBTQ backlash