Gay Zimbabwe Teacher Comes Out, Resigns Under Pressure

The deputy headmaster of an elite school in Harare, Zimbabwe, felt it was necessary to come out as gay to the students after hearing from alumni that they had felt excluded and even under threat due to a climate of pervasive homophobia.

Courageously deciding to stand up to anti-gay bias, Neal Hovelmeier decided that he had to be "open and transparent" about his own homosexuality. But when Hovelmeier made his announcement on Sept. 21, he sparked a furious backlash, the BBC reported.

Hovelmeier had felt additional pressure to come out since a local newspaper was threatening to out him, CNN reported. Hovelmeier not only came out in person during an assembly with the students, but the school also informed parents of his coming out. 

But Hovelmeier soon faced the rage of homophobic parents, who threatened him with prosecution under Zimbabwe's anti-gay laws. He also had to contend with the prospect of an investigation — not to mention death threats, News 24 reported. 

Hovelmeier sent a letter to parents acknowledging that his coming out had caused "grievous and deep concern," and accounting his resignation. "For my own sense of integrity I will not submit myself to a sham trial or investigation," he said in the letter.

Various media outlets noted that being gay is illegal in Zimbabwe, with the country's constitution barring everything from sexual contact between persons the of the same gender to marriage equality. The former deputy headmaster, who had worked at the school for 15 years, has his supporters, however, News 24 noted, and they view his coming out as important for the country's ongoing debate around issues of human sexuality and diversity. News 24 reported that an online petition standing up for Hovelmeier garnered 1,500 signatures in its first two days.

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