Zimbabwean teacher who came out as gay in private school resigns after getting death threats

Zimbabwean teacher who came out as gay in private school resigns after getting death threats

The teacher whose coming out in St. John’s College, a private school in Harare, Zimbabwe, was forced to resign on Friday after his admission that he was gay prompted a furious backlash from parents.

Neal Hovelmeier, one of two deputy headmasters in the school 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.

A teacher at the school for 15 years, Mr. Hovelmeier had kept his sexuality a secret until last week when a local newspaper, allegedly acting on a tip-off from one of his colleagues, asked him to confirm whether or not he was gay.

Acting on the advice of its lawyers, the school’s governing body advised Mr. Hovelmeier to pre-empt the news story, and he outed himself at a morning assembly.

There was widespread support among the staff and students – black and white – for the teacher, fondly known as “Mr Hov”, and a respected and popular teacher known for his good-humoured responses to schoolboy pranks.

But at an emergency school meeting, some parents stood up to denounce the teacher, with one being heard to shout: “We are afraid that our children will be recruited into homosexuality.”

The session degenerated into near-chaos after a section of black parents allegedly attempted to strike a white pupil in the Sixth Form who had appealed for calm.

The row highlights a racial divide over how homosexuality is viewed in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, whose son attended St. John’s, disparaged gay people when he was president as “worse than pigs and dogs”, claiming that homosexuality was a “pollution” visited on the world by “the gay United gay Kingdom”.

Zimbabwe’s white minority is generally more tolerant. White parents at the school said they were outraged at the “aggressive” behaviour displayed towards the boy who had spoken out.

After the meeting, parents 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”.

They also threatened to bring criminal charges of sodomy against him. Although homosexuality is not illegal in Zimbabwe, sexual acts between two men constitute a crime – although it is unclear what evidence parents might have to press charges as Mr. Hovelmeier.

Widening the scope of their anger, parents have demanded the resignation of the school’s headmaster, Corrado Trinci, who had praised Mr. Hovelmeier as “a man of complete integrity” and appealed for tolerance. They also called for the entire board of governors to step down.

Mr. Hovelmeier said he was taken aback by “the force of anger and resentment” his outing had unleashed.

“In the past few days, I have unfortunately come under vitriolic attack from various quarters,” he wrote in a resignation letter. “I have been in receipt of death threats as well as threats of physical danger to myself and my pets.

“It is for this reason, and with a very heavy heart, that I have come to realise that my position as Deputy Headmaster is now untenable and I hereby tender my resignation with immediate effect.”

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.

Former and present students have launched a petition to call for Mr. Hovelmeier’s immediate reinstatement.

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  1. J
    September 30, 21:55 Reply

    Parents, their fear is for their children not to be initiated- as if homosexuality is a cult ?

  2. J
    September 30, 21:57 Reply

    Parents, their fear is for their children not to be initiated- as if homosexuality is a cult ?

    I’m tired.

  3. Dammy
    October 01, 08:13 Reply

    Hypocrisy is our major problem here in Africa.. really sad!

  4. McDuke
    October 01, 09:02 Reply

    Just to drift a little from the story. Reading about this, all I could do was compare this to the Nigerian situation cos I was amazed that this guy’s school gave him their support all these while. I dont think any Nigerian school including higher institutions of learning will give anyone such level of support in cases like this. I’m just surprised to discover that Zimbabwe have people that publicly support LGBT people even a pupil, which begs the question…is Nigeria the most homophobic country yet????

    • Yazz Soltana
      October 02, 00:26 Reply

      British American??? I don’t know much about the fancy schools in Nigeria . they might..

  5. trystham
    October 01, 18:58 Reply

    A lovely disposition got both former and current students call for a reinstatement but the fools totally ignored the ‘lovely’ part…these guys make gaddem hard

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