A gay teacher who publicly disclosed his sexuality in order to pre-empt a newspaper story that would have outed him has resigned after receiving death threats and intense pressure from parents. The severe backlash from the parents was too much to handle for him.
Neal Hovelmeier, the deputy head of the sixth form at a very prestigious private school, St John's in the capital Harare, came out to his students last week at an assembly, being encouraged to do so as a newspaper, Daily News, was planning on outing him. He said he had been left no choice but to quit after threats were made against him and his dogs and a vocal section of the parent body threatened legal action.
After he revealed his sexuality, he received support from the school, but at an emergency meeting, some parents stood up to denounce Mr. Hovelmeier, with one shouting, "We are afraid that our children will be recruited into homosexuality."
In his resignation letter, Mr. Hovelmeier wrote, "I will not submit myself to a sham trial." He added, "I have come to realise that my current position as deputy headmaster is now untenable." He even apologized for the distress caused by his disclosure of his sexuality, saying it had led to death threats.
In a society where homophobia is rife, Mr. Hovelmeier had said that some students who confided in him about their sexuality had their confidence improved. He suggested disclosing his sexuality was meant to help pupils who have suffered homophobic attacks. He had hoped this will help past & present students "who may identify as being gay or bisexual to feel accepted." He said his disclosure would help curb the ostracization hurled towards homosexuals and homophobia.
A deeply homophobic society
Zimbabwe has adopted a very tough stance on homosexuality, since the days of Robert Mugabe, a man who utterly detested homosexuals, saying they are "worse than pigs". Homosexuality is not directly outlawed, but homosexuality acts constitute a crime of sodomy. The Constitution does not show any support to homosexuality.
The way Zimbabweans reacted shows a society that is not tolerant of homosexuals. Zimbabwe’s white minority is generally more tolerant. Some parents have instructed lawyers to begin legal action against the school, saying that Mr. Hovelmeier’s homosexuality had "no place whatsoever in a school environment where there are minors".
Some want Mr. Hovelmeier to be charged with sodomy, although it is not clear what evidence they will bring to support their claims.
Some people in Zimbabwe have been outraged with the abuse hurled towards Mr. Hovelmeier because of his sexuality, saying that those who want to take a moral high ground are equally sinful as well.
Some have even insinuated that the drama caused by the St John's teacher's disclosure does not match the issue of rape in the country.
The saga has deeply unsettled a school which, until last week, was best known for its highly-regarded pipe band, whose kilted members had been feted across Zimbabwe after winning first prize in their category at last month’s World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow.
Homosexuality is considered an anathema to African societies.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has never expressed his personal views on homosexuality, only saying he is guided by the Constitution.
Header image credit: BBC