Shane Murnan out of drag and in character as Shantel Mandalay Source: Shantel Mandalay/Facebook

Principal Moonlighting as Drag Queen Driven Out of Job: 'They've Destroyed Me'

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.

An Oklahoma principal's side hustle as an award-winning drag performer led to his being forced out of his career as right-wing trolls attacked the school where he worked with threats.

Meanwhile, the state superintendent – who has attacked other educators in the past – has vowed to punish the school system personnel who hired the former principal, and has fallen back on an ant-drag talking point in trying to establish a new rule that would terminate teachers and other school personnel for "acts that excessively promote sexuality," a characterization of drag that Republican lawmakers have relied on in a number of states in attempts to restrict the venerable theatrical art form.

"I'm a very professional person – I've worked really hard," the former principal, Shane Murnan, told NBC News, before going on to add: "I have been devoted to education, trying to make it a better thing.

But they've destroyed me," Murnan said, "and I don't know where I'm going or what I'm doing now.

"This has been a nightmare."

Murnan has won numerous accolades and awards for his drag persona, Shantel Mandalay, including Miss Gay Oklahoma USofA Classic 2017, Miss Vintage American National Star 2014, and Miss Gay Oklahoma USofA 2005.

In terms of his day job, Murnan "came highly recommended" to his post as school principal, NBC News relayed. But even as he began his duties "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," the news report recounted.

"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."

Then things got really out of hand: "Soon after, the district and Murnan received bomb threats, according to police records and interviews."

Though the superintendent of Western Heights initially stood by Murnan, NBC News reported, the increased costs for security in the face of threats against the school eventually meant that he was asked to resign or face being fired.

"Murnan is the latest example of an educator singled out by Walters over ideological disagreements," NBC News noted. "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 writeup went on to detail, before recounting that "the librarian's district for several days received bomb threats, which were deemed not credible."

Even in the face of such chaos, Walters held fast to his rhetoric, calling Murnan's resignation "a big win" and vowing that the the administrators behind Murnan's hiring as a school principal would be "held accountable," the news report detailed.

If anything, Walters doubled down: he "said in a statement he has 'proposed the most aggressive model in the nation for identifying and uprooting these folks from our schools',"NBC News detailed.

The new rule Walters is pressing for "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'," NBC News went on to note.

Claims that drag performers "sexualize" children have become a commonplace refrain among right-wing policymakers and their supporters, though critics note that highly visible figures who typically wear much scantier costumes, such as football cheerleaders or models, have not excited the same sort of moral panic among conservatives.

Walters was forthright that the proposed rule targets drag artists. NBC News detailed that Walters "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'."

Unsubstantiated accusations that Murnan faced more than two decades ago were also revisited by the anonymous newsletter, the report noted.

"Murnan was charged with possession of child sexual abuse material in 2001, when he was a fifth grade teacher," the report specified. "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."

Murnan also denied that his side career as a drag artist had an impact on his professionalism in the school environment.

"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," Murnan told NBC News.

"Then someone took it and ran with it and tried to make it into a spectacle that it's not."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Read These Next