A man in Singapore has been given a stern warning from a local gym for wearing a “politically sensitive” tank top.
Jee Leong Koh was told by the manager of SAFRA Mount Faber Club that other members of the gym had complained about his top that reads: 'Gay but not yet equal’ on the front and ‘Equality for all’ on the back.
“I asked him how many people complained,” says Koh in a Facebook post.
“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."
Koh—who is usually based in New York—says he explained that he wasn't trying to change any social policy, “just wearing a tank top specially designed by a New York designer”.
“I wasn't standing by the water cooler and passing out flyers, I was just working on my pecs and butt, like other gym users.
“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 manager eventually told his staff to allow Koh into the gym with the controversial tank top on but Koh suspects that more complaints will arise.
He also points out that SAFRA stands for Singapore Armed Forces Reservist Association and that the gym is part of the benefits scheme that national service people have access to.
“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.
“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.”
Koh’s Facebook post has since gone viral and he’s been inspiring LGBT+ Singaporeans.
A local gay artist has even created an illustration of Koh to highlight the discrimination gay people in Singapore face.
Koh also posted on his Facebook this week that a teenage girl came out to him after recognising him and his famous shirt on the train.
“She said very shyly, barely audibly, ‘I'm one of you',” wrote Koh.
“I was very moved by her strange expression, her inability or unwillingness to say gay or lesbian, and I tried clumsily to help by saying, 'You are part of the LGBT community'. She nodded.
He goes on to write that the girl had attended Singapore’s Pride celebration—Pink Dot—but had felt “rather overwhelmed”. The two chatted about finding acceptance with their families and with themselves.
“We reached our station and, after bidding each other a friendly goodbye, parted. I wish you well, my friend. You are one of us."