Even in the best-case scenario, it’s hard being a teacher in the United States. Educators tend to be underpaid and overworked, and once we add an ongoing global pandemic into the mix, both teachers and students really have been pushed to the limit. Of course, ever eager to distract from their failures to provide for constituents amid a public health crisis, Republicans have opted to go all-in on attacking public schools just in time for midterm elections, which has shaken out to look like (among other things) efforts to ban books and push teachers back into the closet.
With all of this in the background, it’s no surprise people are leaving education, but it’s still a deep loss for students every time. As reported by NBC News, for example, Willie Carver Jr., who is literally Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, has left teaching after more than 17 years of service and is transitioning to a new role as a student adviser at the University of Kentucky. Why? According to Carver, it comes down to anti-gay discrimination and harassment without appropriate support from his employer—including a vehement anti-queer campaign sprouted in school board meetings, where people have attacked him as a “groomer.”
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Carver, who is openly gay, has taught kindergarten through 12th grade. His latest position was at Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, where he taught English and French. Carver also supported two student groups at the school, including Open-Light, an LGBTQ+ affirming club, as well as Happy Club, geared toward a making school a happier environment for all. You might find Carver’s name familiar, as he recently spoke to lawmakers on behalf of LGBTQ+ folks to discuss censorship and discrimination queer teachers face.
When speaking before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties back in May in an effort to get them to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act (to combat harassment and bullying in schools) and the Equality Act (to ban discrimination in employment, housing, and education based on sexual orientation and gender identity), Carver told lawmakers he is made to feel “invisible.” He said that while he feels he’s “abandoning” his students by leaving teaching, he’s “tired.”
“I’ve fought for so long for kids to feel human, to be safe, to have hope,” Carver told lawmakers, adding that no one is asking for “special treatment” but for “fundamental human decency” and freedom from fear. (Meaning: the bare minimum.)
You can watch his address below.
In speaking to Spectrum News 1 in an interview about his decision to leave the classroom, Carver explained he thought returning to school would result in “so much personal pain,” adding that he felt things had gotten better over the years, but now are getting “so much worse”
In speaking to NBC News in an interview, Carver alleged that teachers were told to remove books by LGBTQ+ writers from their curriculum. He also said his employer tried to stomp out a polling effort by students to see how their peers were feeling about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the school. But Carver told the outlet one of the final blows was the administration’s failure to appropriately address harassment he says he and openly queer students at the school faced.
“Grooming” rhetoric flooded school board meetings back in March, and Carver says these folks accused not only him of being a “groomer” but LGBTQ+ students of being groomers, too. He says he’s continued to receive hateful attacks against his character online, including slurs and homophobic comments. Carver alleges that the school failed not only him but the students involved in these attacks.
“I’ve now reached a stage where I’m starting to see that the toll on mental health is going to be such that my students are not going to be seeing a successful LGBTQ person in front of them,” Carver told the outlet. “They’re seeing someone who is stressed out and unhappy.”
“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,” Carver wrote in part in a Facebook post, per The Daily Beast. “Though I am immensely proud of my brilliant, hardworking, and fierce colleagues who have and continue to change that system in defense of students.”
No school (or employer, in general) should force workers back into the closet. Students should not need to live in fear. Republicans know exactly what they’re doing when they use carefully selected anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to frame queer folks as “groomers” and insinuate that queer sexuality and identities are somehow “inappropriate” or innately “sexual.” It’s demonizing, dehumanizing, and frankly, shameful. No one deserves this.
And it’s especially heartbreaking to lose an openly queer teacher when so many queer or questioning students are so isolated and at risk of mental health struggles and bullying while at school.
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