The Gays and Lesbians Zimbabwe (GALZ) has called on government to set up policies and support structures to protect its members from blackmail, abuse and segregation after a teacher at the privately-owned St Johns College in Harare was last week forced to resign after disclosing his sexual orientation at the school.
Neal Hovelmeier — who was a deputy head at the school — announced to students that he was gay, hoping to open a discussion about tolerance and acceptance, according to reports, but faced a backlash from parents and commenters in a country whose 2013 Constitution considers homosexuality as ‘indecent’ and punishable with a prison term.
Speaking at an Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) Conversations on liberal gay rights, particularly in schools, GALZ programmes manager Samuel Matsikure said members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community were suffering from abuse and blackmail owing to the culture of shaming gays.
AMH are publishers of NewsDay, The Standard and Zimbabwe Independent. The company also runs an online radio and television station, Heart and Soul.
“There are people who have become rich by blackmailing gays and lesbians in this country and the deputy headmaster of St Johns [Neal Hovelmeier] was forced to come out in the open after he had been threatened by a newspaper. If he had not faced that threat, he could have stayed at that school for another 35 years or so, producing quality graduates,” Matsikure said.
Hovelmeier was forced to resign from his post after revealing his se_xual orientation at a school assembly last month, courting the ire of parents who demanded that he steps down.
Matsikure, however, said Hovelmeier and the school made the mistake of involving students by making the announcement at a school assembly.
“The manner in which the matter was handled could have been wrong; it should have been handled differently. The involvement of children is what brings us to this conversation today; parents discuss issues of sexuality, but not with their children and that was done wrongly,” he said.
Oliver Mandisodza, who leads pressure group Men of Valour Purpose and Vision Trust, accused gays and lesbians of attempting to destroy the country and put the government of the day to shame, saying what happened at St Johns could be a conspiracy by the LGBTI community.
“There should be investigations and people must be arrested because people used our children to launch their bid for recognition. How do we say the country is open for business when we are doing this? These are selfish people who want to force their beliefs on us,” he said.
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