Gay teacher in Zimbabwe faces angry demands to resign after coming out to students
A parents’ meeting at a Zimbabwe elite school descended into chaos on Monday, after a teacher came out as gay.
Videos from the event shared on social media showed several heated confrontations, with reports that “fist fights” nearly broke out between groups of parents.
Dr Neal Hovelmeier, Deputy Head for the Sixth Form at the private school St John’s College in the capital Harare, has faced a wave of anger after he led a school assembly on Friday (September 21) seeking to tackle homophobic bullying. During the assembly, he spoke about his own sexuality.
Parents’ meeting at St John’s College nearly broke in2 a fist fight during a discusion about measures 2 be taken against the college deputy head Neal Hovelmeier who called special assembly 2 announce his sexual orientation as Gay infront of kids@StarFMNews @HMetro_ @TheBMetro pic.twitter.com/FEpeTp1Mv3
— Tapatapa Maxwell B. (@MaxTapatapa) September 24, 2018
A letter was also sent home to parents informing them that the teacher had come out.
Gay sex is illegal in Zimbabwe, and the teacher’s announcement has ignited fury from homophobic parents, while the issue has also been seized upon by much of the country’s media.
The angry parents have demanded the resignations of Hovelmeier alongside the school’s headmaster Cav Trinci and deputy head A Sakala, who both supported his decision to come out.
In an initial statement, Hovelmeier explained that he has “always been an intensely private individual” but that former students had told him they had experienced “an environment of intolerance, intimidation and homophobia while they were at school.”
He added: “I have felt increasingly troubled by the fact that we as an institution have never openly dealt with trying to curb homophobic behaviour and, equally, failed to provide a safe learning experience for students who may identify as being gay or bisexual to truly flourish and fed accepted.
“I simply feel and believe that as an educator I will be able to better address and advance this issue if I am prepared to be fully and open and transparent about it myself.
“I also believe that it is integral to my own sense of personal integrity and professionalism that I deal with all students and stakeholders in an open and transparent manner. My only regret is that I did not make this disclosure earlier.
“I can assure you that at all times I will continue to discharge my duties with the levels of professionalism I have endeavoured at all times to uphold.
“I have been very heartened and grateful for the truly overwhelming levels of support shown to me by students and staff alike. even in the short time since I addressed the school this morning.”
Trinci and Sakala had signed a separate letter defending the teacher, adding: “This College Campus is a place where diversity is embraced and a safe and caring environment is provided for ALL persons regardless of race, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientations, abilities or disabilities, or any other real or perceived ‘difference.'”
A subsequent letter from chair of the school board Charles Msipa appeared to cast a different light on events, alleging that Hovelmeier only disclosed his sexuality because a national newspaper appeared to be preparing a story to ‘out’ him.
Msipa wrote: “Dr Hovelmeier had received an email communication from a daily newspaper asking him to confirm or deny allegations that he was gay and how he could reconcile that with his position as Deputy Head of the College.
“Management had consulted with the school’s legal advisor, on the basis of which they recommended that it would be preferable for school stakeholders to learn of Dr HoveImeier’s sexual orientation from them rather than from a news story on the same subject publication of which seemed imminent.”
He added: “I take full responsibility for the events that transpired and extend my unreserved apologies to all stakeholders for any distress occasioned by the management communication and publication.
“On a personal level, it is my respectful view that the should continue to strive to provide a safe, caring, inclusive, diverse and tolerant environment and spare for all persons regardless of race, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, abilities or disabilities.”
Gay people face immense persecution in Zimbabwe, with police frequently target the LGBT+ community.
The country’s former President Robert Mugabe claimed homosexuality is a filthy disease, vowed to reject international aid that requires Zimbabwe to accept gay people’s human rights, and insisted Zimbabwe would “never, never, never” decriminalise homosexuality.
Mugabe was notoriously one of the world’s most homophobic leaders, presiding over a regime that has carried out homophobic purges, targeting gay men with extortion, arrest, and even torture.
The President was ousted late last year by his lieutenant Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has shot down questions about whether he will roll back the state’s harsh anti-LGBT policies.
Asked if he would do anything to progress LGBT+ rights in the country, Mnangagwa responded: “Those people who want it are the people who should canvass for it, but it’s not my duty to campaign for this.”