Neal Novelmeier, a teacher at a private high school for boys in Harare – St John’s College – stood up at an assembly last Friday morning and came out as gay.
He said he had decided to declare his sexuality hoping it would “curb homophobic behaviour” at the school located in the plush neighbourhood of Borrowdale.
“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 open and transparent about it myself,” he said in a letter to parents.
Novelmeier has been supported by the school’s headmaster, Cavaliere Corrado Trinci, deputy headmaster Andrew Sakala and Charles N. Msipa, the chairman of the school’s board of governors.
Novelmeier, who teaches the Upper Sixth class, said several former students who “gain the confidence after school to pursue their chosen orientation” had told him that during their time at the school they had experienced “intolerance, intimidation and homophobia.”
“I 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 environment for students who may identify as being gay or bisexual to truly flourish and feel accepted.”
Headmaster Trinci said Hovelmeier was a teacher of “impeccable credentials.”
“It suffices for Mr Sakala and I to say that 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 orientation, abilities or disabilities or any other real or perceived ‘difference’,” wrote Trinci in a letter to the parents.
Hovelmeier said he had received “overwhelming levels of support” from the students and staff after his disclosure”, for which he was “heartened and grateful”.
The step taken by Novelmeier, thought to be the first school official to do so, is currently testing the attitudes of parents with children at the school to homosexuality.
On Monday chaos reportedly erupted at the school as parents want headmaster, board and the Hovelmeier to resign with immediate effect.
A St Johns College parent on why gay teacher Neil Hovelmeier & those who facilitated his move to come out to students at an assembly should resign – 24 September 2018 #Zimbabwe pic.twitter.com/mGnEchKVIf
— Povo Zim (@povozim) 25 September 2018
The saga, a hot-button issue it is in the country that banned Same-Sex Marriages, has also invited comments and remarks from the public and the Christianity community, which has had a firm stance against homosexuality since time immemorial.
Some clerics agree that sexuality and its expression are private issues that have no place in a school environment and should be explored and dealt with outside of the school environment.
President and co-founder of Zoe Life Changing Ministries and Grace Unlimited Ministries Apostle Florence Kanyati weighed in saying Zimbabwe has laws against gay sex and openly expressing his sexuality to students at a school was irresponsible on the part of the deputy head.
Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) president Senior Pastor Shingi Munyeza said that educators must be sensitive to societal norms and beliefs.
“EDUCATORS AS ROLE MODELS
1.Watch what you model, where you model, how you model
2. Your private lives must never be exposed to our children
3. Be sensitive to societal norms and beliefs
4. Tolerance must exercised through respectful engagements”(sic)
In his article Of Gay teacher and concerned parents, blogger Nevanji Madanhire wrote:
“….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!”
Here are some of the responses on Twitter:
Yes #zimbabwe is Christian country. But for a religion that preaches love its hypocrisy to treat the LGBT+ community with hate. Check yourselves. Proud of St Johns College for OPENLY supporting a gay colleague as a CHRISTIAN school calling for an end to the HATE #SJC 👏🏾
— Paidamwoyo Gambe (@easy_as_pai) 21 September 2018
The St Johns gay saga shows what happens when people invert nature. God in his infinite wisdom created a man & a woman, man in his folly inverted this. The result social, moral entropy. I have no problem with gays. Its between them & God, but by jove they must keep it indoors!
— Caesar Zvayi (@caesarzvayi) 25 September 2018
No no no no. It is not a practice we can okay in African society. He has come out of the closet now wait for the repercussions. St Johns college is going to be the gayest 👬private school in zim. All other animals know not to mate male to male. Yet us humans can’t.
— Chief Enoch (@EnochChief) 21 September 2018
Homosexuality is banned in Zimbabwe.
Former President Robert Mugabe once said gays were “worse than pigs and dogs”, and new President Emmerson Mnangagwa told CNN in an interview in January that “in our constitution, it is banned and it is my duty to obey my constitution” as he refused to state what his personal opinion was on the matter.
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