University of Oklahoma allegedly fired professor for gay lecturer

A private Christian college in Oklahoma has come under fire for firing a professor who says he was fired for bringing an LGBTQ guest speaker into his class.

Michael O’Keefe taught graphic design at Oklahoma Christian University for more than 40 years before being fired March 7, NBC affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City reported.

O’Keefe’s attorney, Kevin Jacobs, accused the school of discrimination and said the school unfairly disciplined the longtime teacher.

“Letting students expect a world where you can be different is the message Mr. O’Keefe wanted his students to hear. That’s the message this speaker delivered, not a defense of gay rights,” Jacobs said in a statement to KFOR. “Unfortunately, that’s not allowed at Oklahoma Christian University today. It cost Mr. O’Keefe his job.

The speaker who allegedly cost O’Keefe his job was a guest in his graduate-level class The Business of Branding Yourself, where one of the topics covered was “overcoming obstacles and building resilience and character,” according to the statement. of Jacobs. The openly gay speaker, the statement noted, was also an alumnus of Oklahoma Christian University and was employed as an adjunct professor at the university for nearly 20 years.

In his statement, Jacobs said his client was “still evaluating all options available to him to remedy this wrongful and wrongful action.”

Neither O’Keefe nor his attorney immediately responded to requests for comment.

In an email to NBC News, the university shared a brief statement from Oklahoma Christian University attorney Stephen Eck: “The decision to terminate employment was made after a thorough review process. The university will always put the welfare of our students first in every decision we make. »

The university also shared a link to its “mission, vision and values” statement, which said, in part, “We strive to treat our bodies with due honor in the temple of the Holy Spirit – honoring God’s plan that sex should be part of a marriage between a man and a woman, dressing modestly and avoiding self-destructive practices (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Emily Thornton, a 2019 college graduate, said O’Keefe’s dismissal would be felt throughout the school community.

“He guides the students from start to finish,” she said, adding that he was invested in their success throughout their time at Oklahoma Christian University. “So by suddenly losing it, these students are now abandoned.”

Thornton said that during her time as a student at Oklahoma Christian, LGBTQ students and allies were frequently targeted, with students at risk of expulsion for hosting LGBTQ meetings on campus. She said school policies have harmed the mental health of some of her LGBTQ classmates.

“It was tough watching some of my best friends go through this,” Thornton, 24, told NBC News. “They had a relationship with God and a relationship with someone of the same sex, and the school didn’t accept that.”

“You have to drop one or the other if you’re in this school, and it’s not a decision that has to be made, but it was forced to be made,” she added.

Thornton also condemned the administration’s decision to fire O’Keefe as discriminatory.

“I wish they could look me in the eye and say, ‘Because the students are gay, we’re not going to accept them,'” she said. “What they do is really say directly to students, ‘We discriminate. We don’t accept you. You are not welcome here.

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