Oklahoma principal with drag queen side gig resigns under pressure from state Superintendent Ryan Walters

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For two decades, Shane Murnan worked as an educator by day and a drag queen on nights and weekends at clubs in Oklahoma City. He won awards for his performances as he moved up in his career to become an administrator. He never had a problem with his dual identities, he said, until last year.

At the start of the fall 2023 semester, as Murnan started a new job as principal of John Glenn Elementary School in the Western Heights School District, an anonymous newsletter posted about his drag persona and past criminal charges he had faced. Two days later, on Aug. 31, the far-right social media account Libs of TikTok posted about Murnan, and Ryan Walters, the incendiary state superintendent, called for him to be fired. Soon after, the district and Murnan received bomb threats, according to police records and interviews.

Now Murnan is leaving his job, while Walters tries to enact rules to make it easier to fire educators who perform in drag outside of their jobs. Murnan said he most likely won’t work for another school district in Oklahoma after this experience.

“I’m a very professional person — I’ve worked really hard,” Murnan said in an interview. “I’ve gone to school. I got my bachelor’s, my master’s, my doctorate — I have been devoted to education, trying to make it a better thing. But they’ve destroyed me, and I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing now. This has been a nightmare.”

The Western Heights School Board voted Monday to accept Murnan’s resignation at its regular monthly meeting.

Murnan said district administrators had not allowed him to work in the John Glenn Elementary School building during the school day since September because they said it was a safety risk. While Western Heights Superintendent Brayden Savage initially backed Murnan, he said, she told him last month that if he didn’t resign, the district would terminate him because of the cost of increased security. The district asked him to sign an agreement that included a clause preventing him from talking publicly about the controversy, Murnan said, but he refused. 

Savage didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Murnan is the latest example of an educator singled out by Walters over ideological disagreements. Walters accused a teacher in 2022 of promoting pornography by sharing a QR code to access books from the Brooklyn Public Library; the teacher quit and moved out of the state as Walters moved to revoke her teaching license. Last August, Walters promoted a Libs of TikTok post about an Oklahoma school librarian — who said her “radical liberal agenda is teaching kids to love books and be kind” — and suggested it showed a “woke ideology”; the librarian’s district for several days received bomb threats, which were deemed not credible.

Ryan Walters, Oklahoma's school superintendent,
Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s schools superintendent, warned that people who hired Shane Murnan will be “held accountable.”Christopher Creese for NBC News

Reacting to earlier reports about Murnan’s exit, Walters posted a video on Feb. 2 calling his resignation “a big win for Oklahoma schools.” He promised that people who hired him “will be held accountable.” 

The Oklahoma Education Department declined to answer several questions regarding Walters’ statements about Murnan and Western Heights, but Walters said in a statement he has “proposed the most aggressive model in the nation for identifying and uprooting these folks from our schools.”

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Walters recently proposed a regulation that would allow educators to be fired for “acts that excessively promote sexuality” outside of work “in the presence of a minor or in a manner available to a minor online.” He has said the proposed rule, which is still being considered by the state agency, is an attempt to prevent others who perform in drag from holding positions as teachers or administrators, and the department has stated it assumes such educators are “likely to behave inappropriately in the presence of minors in a classroom.”

The anonymous newsletter that first called attention to Murnan, called V1SUT, has also frequently focused on decades-old criminal charges against Murnan that were dropped.

Murnan was charged with possession of child sexual abuse material in 2001, when he was a fifth grade teacher. Two judges dismissed the charges, ruling that prosecutors couldn’t prove the allegations, and the cases were expunged. Murnan contends a former colleague fabricated the allegations.

Before Western Heights hired him as a principal, Murnan passed a background check, and the district said it was aware of his past court cases. The district has said he came highly recommended, and it noted his teaching certificate had recently been reissued to him, signed by Walters. 

Community members rallied in September to defend Murnan. They showed up at the school board meeting with shirts reading “#StandWithMurnan.” 

Murnan said he didn’t hide his side gig as a drag queen, but he also didn’t boast about it at school.

“There’s never been an issue, because I’ve never put it out there to make it an issue,” he said. “I did my side job on the weekends, and then I went to work and worked my tail off to make the school a better place. They never conflicted with each other. Then someone took it and ran with it and tried to make it into a spectacle that it’s not.”

Savage, the district superintendent, told John Glenn Elementary School staff members at a Dec. 15 meeting that she had defended Murnan, according to video of the meeting obtained by NBC News. However, Savage told the employees that Murnan wouldn’t return to the elementary school campus because she and the district were still receiving hate mail and threats.

“I’m not caving to Ryan Walters,” Savage told the staff, “but I have to ultimately keep the students and the staff of this school safe. The hate has not stopped. To bring Shane back to the building is a risk to safety for all. I cannot be totally sure that one of those crazies will not show up to, quote-unquote, cleanse the building, which is something I’ve seen over and over again.”

In January, Murnan said, the district unexpectedly put him on administrative leave. Savage then asked him to resign, citing the expense of extra security, Murnan said. Savage told The Oklahoman the district had spent about $65,000 since August on additional security, administrative help, and other costs. Murnan said he signed a resignation letter on Jan. 26. 

Murnan said his ouster raises questions about the state education department’s focus.

“Right now, it’s not about the kids in Oklahoma,” Murnan said. “It’s all about politics.”

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