2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year testifies to Congress about LGBTQ inclusion

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5/20/22

When it comes to his Montgomery County High School classroom, French and English teacher Willie Carver likes to let the students take the lead. “When I see any human being, I see potential,” Carver said. That teaching style earned him the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year award a few months ago. He also engages with the students outside the classroom through the group he sponsors, Open Light. “They teach themselves lessons on Black history, on LGBTQ history, they teach themselves about women’s rights,” he said. “Everyone is welcome. Specifically, LGBTQ students are welcome. There are literally spaces in school and groups in school in which they are literally not welcome, so it’s important that they have that invitation, that they know this is a place where you can be.” He knows just how important support can be, growing up a gay kid in an area that wasn’t always accepting. “I heard so many horrific things about what gay people were, that it didn’t occur to me that I was gay, despite the fact that I kind of wanted a boyfriend. I was told that gay people were monsters, so it didn’t occur to me that I could be that,” he said. “I was smart enough, old enough, around 13 or 14, to start thinking, ‘Okay, I think I’m this…’ and that led me to believe, ‘Okay, I guess I’m a monster. I guess I don’t really fit in.'” He said even the smallest show of support can make a huge difference. “75% of LGBTQ youth under the age of 18 said that they are consistently miserable. 50% seriously attempted suicide in the last 12 months. When we know that one, single affirming adult reduces their risk of suicide by 50%, we have to have that affirming adult,” he said. Carver said there was always some pushback, but things were generally ok. In the last couple of years, though, he said it’s become intense. “If I wake up and choose to have a group meeting, then I know someone from the community is going to attack me and attack this group and say that it’s, the new word is, a ‘grooming’ group, despite the fact that I just have kids cleaning up a park. If I choose not to have the group, then I have to deal with the fact that I have a lifesaving mechanism that I’m choosing not to do. It is a no-win situation for any teacher who is trying to make sure that LGBTQ kids feel that they should exist and lately, it’s become more and more politicized,” Carver said.

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