A South Australian gay man’s ‘Tom of Finland’ bag has raised the hackles at a sports and fitness centre in suburban Adelaide.
Jeff Trahair’s visits to the gym and swimming pool were an important part of his health and well being as an elderly and openly gay man aiming to remain fit, mentally and physically.
But, when Trahair fashioned a kit bag from a shower curtain with “very PG Tom of Finland images” to carry with him on his visits to the Aquatic and Recreation Centre in Campbelltown, he never expected that it would end up with him feeling “denigrated, humiliated and harassed”.
The management of ARC Campbelltown, located around nine kilometres from Adelaide, deemed the bag “inappropriate” for children and asked Jeff to refrain from carrying the bag on his visits to the gym and the swimming pool.
Left with no recourse against the complaints from unknown persons, Trahair finally decided to cancel his membership this week. “Feel utterly harassed and bullied, and can definitely live without that,” Trajair told Star Observer in an email interview.
Anonymous Complaints And A Vigilante Witch Hunt
Trahair termed the management’s action a “vigilante witch hunt” based on homophobia. “The images are not explicit sexual ones at all! They are all very PG and good fun. I have used the bag for years in all Adelaide pools and never experienced anything like this. In fact, quite the opposite – people usually comment positively,” said Trahair.
The centre confirmed that they had asked Trahair to stop carrying the bag to the premises.
“Following a number complaints received from members of the public and staff, Mr Trahair was contacted and requested to refrain from wearing and displaying items that were considered by the complainants, and following investigation by management, as inappropriate. Mr Trahair responded to and argued against this request and chose to cancel his membership,” Chelsea Bevitt, Acting Manager Leisure Businesses, said in a statement to Star Observer.
“As a Department of Education swim facility and the provider of a large Learn To Swim program we are required to maintain a child safe environment and act on complaints made to us. The items of graphic content displayed, worn and carried by Mr Trahiar were not appropriate within a community recreation setting,” added Bevitt.
Bag Fashioned From Tom Of Finland Curtain
The bag at the centre of the controversy was made by Trahair from fabric from a ‘Tom Of Finland’ shower curtain manufactured by 200-year-old Finnish textile and homewares company Finlaysons. The images were prints from the collection of homoerotic art created by Finnish artist Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known as Tom Of Finland.
On March 26, 2021, Trahair received an email from ARC Campbelltown staff that claimed the centre had received “received feedback from patrons that some of the attire that you have been wearing whilst in the pool area is not very child friendly.”
Days later, in another email on April 1, the same staff member asked Trahair to not wear or display the item. “For example, I have personally seen your bag which has a graphic image of males on it as well as a broach of male genitalia.”
In a subsequent email, Bevitt said “my overall view is that we are an environment with children present in all departments and it would be inappropriate for us to allow the display of the content we have witnessed in your possession.”
Trahair responded to the emails denying the allegations and calling out the “ad hoc and subjective” decision taken by the management on the basis of anonymous complaints without giving him a hearing. Trahair pointed out that when he is at the facility he spends most of his time at the gym and at the pool he usually places the bag under the towel.
‘Bag Not Family Friendly’
“I now feel very unwelcome and stigmatized attending the ARC,” Trahair wrote. “It appears to me that the processes you have used have been covert, amounting to not much more than the compiling of a secret dossier about me by a highly opinionated vigilante witch hunt.”
ARC Campbelltown claimed to have ben motivated by its desire to keep the premises “child friendly”, but Trahair pointed out that it was not the bag that was harmful but homophobic attitudes.
“Children might actually need protection and safety from adults making discriminatory judgments which affect their lives in major ways. I think kids and families stand to benefit from people ‘like me’, for I live happily and fully, as a senior, enjoying diversity and respect and creativity,” said Trahair.
Though he decided to cancel his membership to put a stop to the harassment, Trahair has left open the option of approaching the state equal opportunity commission against the discriminatory treatment meted out to him.