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Outrage in Japan after popular TV program "Tunnels" ridicules LGBTQI+ community

A participant dressed in an ancient samurai warrior costume with the rainbow flag on his helmet poses before the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, 7 May 2017
A participant dressed in an ancient samurai warrior costume with the rainbow flag on his helmet poses before the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, 7 May 2017

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 4 October 2017.

The 30-year anniversary revival broadcast of a popular Japanese television show Tunnels sparked public outrage when an episode that aired in late September featured "Homoo Homooda," a character crafted around offensive stereotypes of gay men, and a cabal of other characters who joined in the chorus of anti-gay remarks during the program.

It was a harsh reminder of times past - albeit not ancient history. It was just seven years ago when Tokyo's governor publicly called gay people "deficient," and two years ago when another politician tweeted that gays were "abnormal." But while "Homoo Homooda" seemed to still live in his 1980s world, Japanese society has moved on.

The broadcast sparked a public outcry; 104 groups and individuals - including prominent business executives and opinion leaders - submitted a letter of complaint to Fuji TV and the program's sponsors the following day. Many activists also shared their personal childhood experiences on social media, recalling how they felt uncomfortable and scared of being bullied by classmates who imitated "Homoo Homooda" at school.

During a regular media briefing on September 29, 2017, the president of Fuji TV, Masaki Miyauchi, apologized for any part of the program that created discomfort, but did not say whether the company was planning to take any steps in response to the criticism.

Japan has no legislation protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. It also treats transgender people requesting legal recognition as having "Gender Identity Disorder" and coerces them into undergoing unnecessary and invasive medical procedures.

However, the country has experienced dramatic changes in public attitudes toward the issue over the past few years. Some municipalities now recognize same-sex partnerships, and the national government has taken some steps toward bringing its policies in line with its international human rights obligations, including its revision in March of the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include LGBT students.

Whether the government's progress recognizing that LGBT people have the same right to dignity as everyone else in Japan will be reflected in an evolving Japanese media is an open question.

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