The Perils of Coming Out in Zimbabwe

Dr. Neal Hovelmeier, a veteran teacher at the elite St. John’s College Prep School in Zimbabwe, opened up about being a gay man at a school assembly on how to combat homophobic bullying. He did so in part because a newspaper intended to print that he was homosexual.

According to the BBC, “He wrote that former students had confided to him that they had felt intimidated and ostracized at the school amidst a homophobic atmosphere.”

While school administrators supported him, parents threatened to sue if he were not dismissed. In the face of death threats, Hovelmeier resigned.

Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe from independence in 1980 until 2017, made homophobic attacks a staple of his presidency, saying in 1995 that “there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs” and threatening gay people with arrest and violence.

While the new regime takes a somewhat softer tone, a recent survey found that half of Zimbabwean gay men have been assaulted and 64 percent disowned by their families. While lesbian sex is not criminalized the way gay male sex is, 27 percent of lesbians also say they have been disowned.