Lesbian‚ gay‚ bisexual‚ and transgender activists in Zimbabwe have commended the bravery of a top private school deputy headmaster for openly declaring his sexual orientation during assembly.
Dr Neal Hovelmeier teaches at St John’s College‚ one of the country’s elite schools. He made the announcement to pupils at the school last week.
Hovelmeier said in a statement that he had decided to lead by example because of some of his former students’ experiences.
“I have become increasingly aware that a number of former students who gain the confidence after school to pursue their chosen orientation‚ have reported back to me experiencing an environment of intolerance‚ intimidation and homophobia while they were at school‚” he said.
The headmaster‚ Cav Trinci‚ said in solidarity that the school was open to diversity‚ be it religious‚ sexual‚ racial or disability.
Activist Ricky Nathanson from Transgender Research‚ Education‚ Advocacy and Training (TREAT) said the bold move by Hovelmeier was a major victory for minorities and the marginalised in Zimbabwe.
“It is encouraging to witness the bravery and honesty of Dr Hovelmeier on his announcement of who he truly is. That takes absolute bravery‚ introspection‚ and demonstration that one needs to be true to who one really is‚” he said.
The US$2‚900 per term school is attended by the children of wealthy parents and diplomats. One notable alumnus is Robert Junior‚ the son of former president Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe once described LGBT people as “worse than dogs and pigs“. During Mugabe’s rule many left the country‚ fearing persecution for their sexual orientation because homosexuality is outlawed in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s bodyguards assaulted gay rights activist Peter Tatchell in 2001 after he tried to effect a citizen’s arrest on the former president during an official visit to Brussels in Belgium. In 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was lambasted by Mugabe for supporting same-sex relationships.
Since President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power‚ there has been a decline in the persecution of people with different sexual orientations. In an interview on CNN with Richard Quest at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January‚ Mnangagwa said it was up to LGBT activists to push for their inclusion but‚ for now‚ the law stands.
“Those people who want it are the people who should canvass for it‚ but it’s not my duty to campaign for this‚” he said.
LGBT activists feel that they enjoy greater freedom under Mnangagwa.
“But post-Mugabe we see that the current president‚ Mnangagwa‚ has tried to speak to issues towards creating spaces where people enjoy their freedoms‚ particularly that of expression and assembly‚” said Chesterfield Sambo‚ the director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ).
HIV and sexual health issues have in recent years forced the government of Zimbabwe to give medical care to gays and lesbians. Former health minister Dr David Parirenyatwa once said Zimbabwe should not ignore the existence of homosexuality and hide behind cultural expectations.