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.
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.