Of gay teachers and concerned parents

St John’s College teacher Neal Novelmeier

When I left university with a teaching qualification I responded to an ad for a post at a girls’ high school in Harare. I was invited for an interview.

By Nevanji Madanhire

The two elderly white ladies (it was in the mid-1980s) who interviewed me said right in my face they wouldn’t give me the job. I was a feisty young man who had experienced racism in the 1970s so I accused them of racism right in their faces.

One of them said to me: “You’re young, attractive and very eligible; we cannot trust you with hundreds of excitable, impressionable teenage girls. Sorry, we can’t risk it.”

When my daughter was growing up, I felt the same impulse to protect her and, while doing so, I always reminded myself of what the two white ladies said to me and said to myself they were probably right; they were not being racist, theirs was a natural urge to protect the girl child.

I have worked with loads of young girls and young women over the past four decades and have never been accused of inappropriate behavior towards them, so the white ladies’ fear was irrational only as far as they hadn’t dug up anything that showed I was an abuser of girls. But it was reasonable.

So, when parents say they cannot trust a gay teacher with their ‘young, impressionable teenage boys’ they are not necessarily homophobic; they have an irrational fear of the unknown, but that fear cannot be dismissed contemptuously. It is reasonable!

It will take a bit of time and loads of education for conservative societies to internalize alternative sex orientations. And, this is not a Zimbabwean or African problem.

Republican Mitt Romney’s openly gay spokesman on national security issues, Richard Grenell, in May 2012 resigned, after his hiring led to a backlash from social conservatives.

Former British Liberal Democrats’ leader Tim Farron was ditched for his handling of questions about homosexuality during a general election year; he was Pentecostal and said homosexuality was against his Christian beliefs.

Examples abound of such cases in Europe and America. Homosexuality is divisive the world over and has to be handled with sensitivity whenever and wherever it is discussed.

So, first things first, do impressionable teenage girls have to be protected from eligible young male teachers? On the flip side, do teenage boys equally have to be protected from openly gay teachers?  Is the first justifiable fussy parental care and the second homophobia?

Irrational fears exist all over. There are people who can’t stand the sight of spiders, snakes, heights etc. They need a proper way of exorcising them of their fears; one of the ways is not accusing them of being guilty of their phobias.

So, if some parents withdraw their children from schools with openly gay teachers, it’s not because they are primitive or homophobic, it’s that they probably don’t understand homosexuality or, if they do, their religious or cultural beliefs are contradicted by the phenomenon. And that has to be respected.

It’s only in the recent past that western societies have stopped frowning upon homosexuality though I doubt it is universally accepted yet.

It was through an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary process that homosexuality is now discussed at dinner tables in some societies.

The same process should apply for Africa too!

This was first published at NMadanhire blog