Willie Carver Jr., a gay teacher who recently won Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, announced he would be resigning due to a rise in homophobia in public schools.
In an interview with EdWeek, an independent news organization that specializes in coverage of K–12 education, Carver said he is leaving teaching to accept a position in student support services at the University of Kentucky.
Carver's decision comes at a time of widespread "groomer" hysteria among Republicans accusing LGBTQ+ people of building relationships, trust and emotional connections with children so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.
While Carver does not necessarily believe that former Republican President Donald Trump, whose administration actively supported and emboldened anti-LGBTQ+ causes nationwide, was the cause of all of the hostility against LGBTQ+ educators, he suggests that Trump's ascendancy represents a rightward shift and resurgence in prejudices he once believed had long been resolved.
"You know, we were actually having progress as a country. I’ve been openly gay. For the most part, people have been accepting. And then it kind of changed, both on an individual scale for me and on a national scale for all of us, probably four or five years ago."
"I’m not directly saying that [former President Donald] Trump himself caused these things, but I think he became a symbol for people who thought they were reclaiming something that was lost."
"And I think for them, what was lost is the sense that America is heteronormative and that queerness is bad. Therefore, they felt emboldened."
"Things that I thought were in the past were not. The bannings started happening. The effect that this has in real time on the classroom is immediate."
"Now you’re in a conundrum when a student says, 'Hey, that Amanda Gorman poem was beautiful.'"
"And you have to say, 'Well, when we read it—and we’re going to read it—we’re going to have backlash because she is a Black woman talking about unity. And in America for some reason, equality is a bad word now. In America for some reason right now, a Black woman speaking is a bad thing. And that’s gonna be taken seriously.'"
Carver added that students "now perceive the world in very different terms than they would have if these things weren’t happening," noting that they now believe that their own existence is now a "threat" and therefore "immoral."
The conservative focus on public schools has created an environment that he says is not conducive to teaching because “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."
He observed that the situation has placed his students into a position where they see a "stressed-out, unhappy LGBTQ adult," something that he believes they do not need to witness.
Carver took to Twitter to direct a message at other LGBTQ+ teachers, pledging to "create a new Kentucky and "crush anyone" who has ever forced teachers to "put up with harassment, dismissal, silencing, or invisibility."
Many of Carver's supporters wished him well while criticizing the realities of the current political climate.
Conservative efforts to redesign what students are learning in school received significant national attention this year as a result of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" law.
Florida’s Republican-sponsored Parental Rights in Education bill, or H.B. 1557, was recently signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. The law, colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, aims to “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in a specified manner.”
The law wants to prohibit “a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a specified manner” and authorizes parents to “bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates certain provisions of law.”
"Groomer" rhetoric, meanwhile, appears to have come to a head in Texas, where the state's Republican Party adopted a new platform calling homosexuality an "abnormal lifestyle choice."
Texas Republicans have made clear they oppose making members of the LGBTQ+ community a protected class and they do support conversion therapy, saying that efforts should be made among the LGBTQ+ community to eliminate “unwanted same-sex attraction" as they advocate for what they termed "Reintegrative Therapy."