A few users of the SAFRA Mount Faber Club Gym complained about my tank top to the gym manager. They accused me of trying to change a sensitive social policy or issue. My tank top says, “Gay But Not Yet Equal” on the front, and “Equality For All” on the back. I learned of their complaint when I arrived at the gym this morning. I have been using this same gym when I visit Singapore every summer. On this trip back to Singapore, I had gone to the gym three times; today was my fourth visit only. The gym manager had tried to call me about the complaint but could not reach me. He spoke to me on the phone in the gym.
I asked him how many people complained. He repeated, some, and elaborated, more than one but not many. He also said that “the social issue” was sensitive nationally, and that SAFRA could not allow any social advocacy. I explained that I was not trying to change any social policy, but I was just wearing a tank top specially designed by a New York designer. I should have pointed out, but I didn’t at the time, that the tank top did not refer to Singapore at all. I should have also said that I wasn't standing by the water cooler and passing out flyers, I was just working on my pecs and butt, like the other gym users. I did say that the complainants were not objecting to social advocacy per se. They would not have complained if my tank top had promoted a national heart campaign. They were, in fact, complaining about my being gay.
The gym manager agreed that the complaint was subjective, but said that he still had to take it into account. I said that although a few people complained, the majority of the gym users did not complain, showing they had no problem with my tank top. The gym manager pointed out that the majority could be dissenting quietly. I replied that they could also be approving quietly. He said, and I agreed, that we were not about to take a poll.
I asked him what he would like me to do. He said he was not going to ban me from the gym but would ask me to be sensitive to other gym users. When I asked him what that meant, he repeated himself, and then said that as the gym manager he had to mediate between the complainants and me. I told him I understood he had a job to do. He and his staff were totally courteous and reasonable throughout the 15-minute interview. I was feeling very conspicuous at the front desk, and was surprised to find my hand holding the phone shaking a little, more from the desire to say the right thing than for any other reason. He told his staff to let me into the gym dressed in my tank top as usual.
I don’t think this is the end of it. I suspect that the complainants will complain to the gym manager again, and if he does not take stronger action against me, they will turn to his boss, the manager of the SAFRA Club. SAFRA stands for Singapore Armed Forces Reservist Association. They provide, among other benefits, recreational facilities for National Servicemen and their families. I have done my National Service and Reservist training: I finished as an infantry company commander with the rank of captain. I had not come out as gay then. The Armed Forces require all self-declared gay men to serve National Service, and so it would be wrong to deny these gay servicemen, self-declared or otherwise, any of the benefits afterwards.
It would be an injustice to stop me from using any of the facilities of the SAFRA Recreational Clubs just because a few members do not like my tank top. Or, to put it more bluntly, just because they do not like gay people. And if I’m not allowed to wear my tank top to the SAFRA gym, would I be allowed to wear it walking about Singapore, or would the same people who complained to the gym complain to the police about my “social advocacy on a sensitive social issue”? It’s a tank top, for goodness sake. Would you want to take me in for a tank top? Singapore would be a laughing stock to the world.