(LEX 18) — The reigning Kentucky Teacher of the Year has left the classroom and he says harassment from the community was a big factor.
Several weeks ago, Willie Carver, an openly-gay teacher at Montgomery County High School, went to Washington, D.C. to testify to Congress about LGBTQ inclusion in schools. He said members of the community have mischaracterized him and the students in his LGBTQ-affirming school group and that he wishes the district had done more to defend them. Still, though, he said he sees brighter days ahead.
"There's ebb and flow and right now, we're ebbing towards hate as a country and so, I accept the reality of that,"
Carver says he's experienced that ebb personally. For the past several years, he's been the sponsor of OpenLight, an LGBTQ-affirming club at the school that does service activities. He said people have attacked the group and that at least one person has accused them of "grooming".
"This person was sharing my students' information online, for example, sharing their names and profiles and I personally think that's the sort of thing that districts need to start standing up to and saying there's a line in the sand. We're not going to pretend that racism is politics. We don't need to pretend that homophobia is politics. We're not going to pretend that attacking students is a valid political opinion," Carver said.
Carver said he wanted school officials to do more to push back against accusations like that.
"I think that in the long run, the best approach that I can take is to get out of the classroom if I'm going to have to face these sorts of voices and not get support in facing them," he said.
Carver has taken a job as an academic adviser in the Gatton College at the University of Kentucky. He says the college is making inclusion a high priority.
"I think the University of Kentucky is pushing the conversation forward in the most important ways and I can't imagine a better places to be situated in order to be a part of that conversation and sort of set the tone," he said. "There's this train of progress and I've kind of been at the caboose for a few years, pushing things along and I think it's going to be nice to be near the engine,"
Carver said he hopes his students can take a big life lesson away from the whole experience.
"If anything, I hope that this experience has taught them that it's important to speak up. That's what I hope my legacy is, not necessarily about me, just that I'm going to see people speaking up," he said.
Carver said his OpenLight students back in Montgomery County will be in good hands.
"I know that OpenLight has teachers fighting over who gets to take it over, so that's the really cool thing. I had three separate teachers and one librarian say, 'Hey! Do you think I could take this group', so I think the kids are going to be very well-supported," he said.