Kentucky's 2022 teacher of the year says he put up with harassment and administration efforts to diminish LGBTQ identities for years because he thought it was important for students in his rural high school to have a thriving, openly gay teacher in their classroom. Willie Carter Jr. still thinks it's important, but that teacher won't be him, NBC News reports. "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," Carter says. "They're seeing someone who is stressed out and unhappy."
The buildup to his decision included school actions such as telling teachers to remove books written by LGBTQ authors from their curriculum and defending students accused of pulling down Rainbow Pride posters in the building. This year, harassment escalated, Carter says, when people began attending Montgomery County school board meetings who accused him and LGBTQ students of being "groomers"—labeling them without evidence as child sex abusers. The group also attacked online, posting homophobic slurs with images of Carter and LGBTQ students. When the school, where he's taught for 12 years, refused to act, that was it for Carter.
The state Department of Education named Carter teacher of the year in September, choosing from about 500 nominees. For the English teacher, who grew up in the area, school always represented "a place of security and a place of promise," he says. "It has been my goal to take any person in the room and let them truly believe that they’re capable of something grand," he adds, "that they're capable of something tremendous." Carter is moving into an administrative job at the University of Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The district declined to address the issues but called Carter a "wonderful" teacher, per NBC. The state department issued a statement saying it's "proud of Willie and what he has accomplished in his teaching career." (Read more LGBTQ stories.)