Metro Weekly

Professor Says He Was Fired For Inviting A Gay Guest Speaker To Class

Oklahoma Christian University allegedly terminated Michael O'Keefe for inviting a gay Christian to talk to his class.

The campus of Oklahoma Christian University – Photo: Oklahoma Christian University

A professor at Oklahoma Christian University claims he was fired after he invited a guest speaker who is openly gay to talk to his graphic design class.

Michael O’Keefe, who taught graphic design at the school for 41 years until earlier this month, says he was fired on March 7 after inviting a guest speaker to talk to his “Business of Branding Yourself” class about “expecting a world where you may be different.”

The speaker, who happened to be gay, was one of several speakers asked to talk about overcoming personal challenges in life, reportedly talked about his personal journey as a Christian, according to Julia Layne, a graduate of OCU who wrote a Twitter thread explaining what led to O’Keefe’s termination.

“I know that two explicit words were used by the speaker during his presentation,” Layne tweeted. “However, at the beginning of the presentation, witnesses have reported that the speaker gave an intentional trigger warning explaining that explicit language would be used. It was explained that the language used was important to the context of the story, but the students were told they could leave if they chose to do so. The words used were d**k and b***h.

“…After the guest speaker had left, O’Keefe spoke with his class about what they thought of the speaker. Many students spoke positively about the speaker’s story. One or possibly several students said they were uncomfortable by the speaker’s story,” Layne added.

“Unbeknownst to O’Keefe, the student (or possibly students) complained to the OC administration about the guest speaker. The exact nature of the complaint, apart from the student feeling uncomfortable, is unknown.

“The OC administration then proceeded to investigate the incident. After an investigation, they determined that the guest speaker’s presentation was inappropriate and therefore Michael O’Keefe should be terminated.”

Kevin Jacobs, O’Keefe’s lawyer, issued a statement to Oklahoma City-based NBC affiliate KFOR, claiming that the university is deliberately misrepresenting the message that the speaker gave to O’Keefe’s class. He said he and his client are still weighing their legal options.

“Michael O’Keefe was fired by Oklahoma Christian University allegedly for his ‘gross misconduct, conduct contrary to the mission and values of Oklahoma Christian University and disregard of the policies and values of the university.’ It is our belief Mr. O’Keefe was terminated for having a guest speaker for his senior level class… This speaker is also gay,” Jacobs said.

“Letting students expect a world where you may be different is the message Mr. O’Keefe wanted his students to hear. That’s the message this speaker delivered, not an advocacy of gay rights. Unfortunately, that’s not permitted at Oklahoma Christian University today. It cost Mr. O’Keefe his job.”

Stephen Eck, the legal counsel for Oklahoma Christian University, told KFOR in a statement: “The decision to end employment was made after a thorough review process. The university will always put first the wellbeing of our students in every decision we make.”

The university also steered reporters to a website with the school’s “mission, vision and values” statement, which states that the university believes God’s plan is that sexual relations should remain a union between a man and a woman, “dressing modestly and avoiding any self-destructive practices.”

Emily Thornton, a 2019 graduate of the university, told NBC News that she believes the university’s decision to fire O’Keefe, who she considers to be a good professor, was discriminatory.

She added that when she was a student at Oklahoma Christian University, LGBTQ students and allies were frequently targeted by the administration, which threatened to expel students for hosting informal LGBTQ meetings on campus.

She says the school’s policies and hostility towards those students took a toll on her LGBTQ classmates.

“It was tough watching some of my best friends go through that,” Thornton said. “They had a relationship with God and a relationship with someone of the same sex, and the school wasn’t accepting of that. You have to give up one or the other if you’re at that school, and that’s not a decision that needs to be made, but it was being forced to be made.”

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