Gay Zim teacher quits after death threats and threats of legal action

A gay teacher at a top private school in Zimbabwe has been forced to resign after receiving death threats and threats of legal action from parents, reports on Friday said.

Neal Hovelmeier came out publicly over his sexuality at an assembly at Saint John’s College in Harare last Friday. But the move sparked outrage from some parents in this socially conservative nation.

Opinion divided

"I have come to realise that my current position as deputy headmaster is now untenable," Hovelmeier said in his resignation letter, quoted by the BBC

He said since making his announcement to the school he had received death threats “as well as threats of physical danger to myself and my pets".

Some parents strongly objected to the way the school went public over the issue. The school authorities said they had no choice, as a private daily newspaper was preparing to publish a story about Hovelmeier and they acted to prevent "conjecture and rumours".

'We're scared for our children'

The sharp divisions among parents emerged at an emergency meeting held on Monday when tempers flared, according to the private Daily News.

“We have no problem with anyone’s sexual orientation, but the venue, audience and time at which the proclamation was made. We think it is an invitation for our children to adopt certain sexual beliefs, we are scared our children will be recruited,” one unnamed parent was quoted as saying. 

Criminal charges

On Tuesday, lawyers for some of the parents wrote to the school’s educational board, threatening to bring criminal charges against Hovelmeier. Homosexual acts are illegal in Zimbabwe, punishable by a year-long jail term or a fine.

The letter from the lawyers said their clients believed that Hovelmeier’s sexuality ran “contrary to the founding principles of the institution which is Christian based.”

They said their clients “reserve a right to place criminal charges against your staff member.”

Legal experts point out though that people can’t be prosecuted simply on the basis of announcing their sexuality.

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