National Coming Out Day is on October 11th. It’s a day for members of the LGBTQ+ community to take initiative and come out to their friends and family. And those who are out can share their stories to help encourage others who may be struggling.
It is not, however, an opportunity for corporations to promote their products. The social media manager for the Japanese cosmetics company Kao Corporation, apparently, did not get this memo.
On National Coming Out Day, Kao Merit Shampoo posted the following tweet to the Japanese “National Coming Out Day” hashtag, #国際カミングアウトデー
“Don’t know what kind of shampoo Merit is? We’ll tell you.
Actually… it’s a non-silicone shampoo.
On this #NationalComingOutDay, we’re “coming out” with some information you don’t know. “Kao Merit Shampoo
Obviously, this was not what the hashtag was intended for. It was probably very puzzling for LGBTQ+ people browsing the hashtag to see what people had posted.
Especially in Japan, where the LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for the recognition of same-sex marriage, coming out is not something to be made light of. It’s a decision that could drastically affect people’s relationships, jobs, and previously built social standing. Using the concept of “coming out” to shill a product demonstrates a lack of consideration for what being openly LGBTQ+ means.
This was not lost on those who saw the post, with many feeling strongly enough to point out Kao’s insensitivity.
Kao is one of many Japanese companies over the years that have participated in a trend of making LGBTQ+-related jokes specifically using the Coming Out Day tag. In fact, a translator compiled a thread full of quote-retweeted Coming Out Day joke posts from various companies. The thread has a total of 6 other companies, 5 of which have already deleted their quoted tweets.
After being met with so much backlash for the tweet, Kao issued a public apology.
Many were unsatisfied with this apology, citing that it was not a good excuse to imply that they “misunderstood” what Coming Out Day was about.
Others were mad that, despite Kao’s “sincerest apologies,” the tweet had not been deleted yet.
The ignorance of Kao and the other companies who made light of Coming Out Day isn’t just a reflection of the staff who work for them, but of how society tends to treat LGBTQ+ people as a whole. Like Kao, society’s acknowledgment of marginalized people often frames them as a joke. Stereotypes of gay or gender-nonconforming people are often used to caricature the community.
Though Kao’s post may have been embarrassing, the company will probably not suffer any meaningful consequences for their inconsideration, as is usual with most large companies. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ people suffer consequences every day for living their lives. Take for example Kawachi Shino, who talked with Huffington Post Japan recently about the discrimination she’s experienced her entire life.
As a whole, Japanese society is gradually becoming more accepting of LGBTQ+ people. While marriage equality across the country remains out of grasp (for now), many jurisdictions – including Tokyo – support partnership systems that confer some of the rights of marriage. However, discrimination still exists and occurs on a regular basis.
Against that backdrop, Kao’s jokes just don’t seem as funny as the company’s marketing department seemed to think they were.