That's So Gay Is No So Nice
August 29, 2012

“That’s So Gay” Phrase Can Have Harmful Effects

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Victims may say this to bullies, but it may not necessarily be true.

Researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) recently found that mean words can have lasting effects on students who consider themselves as bisexual, gay, or lesbian.

In the study, scientists looked at how the phrase “that´s so gay” was used by students to sometimes describe situations they had that were unfavorable. They attributed a negative connotation to the phrase and found that it had lasting harm on bisexual, gay, and lesbian students. The researchers believe that language like this is hostile to sexual minorities and the findings are featured in the current issue of the Journal of American College Health.

“Given the nature of gay-lesbian-bisexual stigma, sexual minority students could already perceive themselves to be excluded on campus and hearing ℠that´s so gay´ may elevate such perceptions,” Michael Woodford, an assistant professor of social work at UM, told CBS Detroit. “℠That´s so gay´ conveys that there is something wrong with being gay. And, hearing such messages about one´s self can cause stress, which can manifest in headaches and other health concerns."

The project included responses from 114 bisexual, gay, and lesbian participants through an online survey. The subjects, aged between 18 and 25, noted how they heard the phrase often on campus in the last year. They also responded to questions on physical well-being, mental health, confidence in disclosing sexual orientation, and feelings of social acceptance on campus.

The researchers found that college students who identified themselves as bisexual, gay, or lesbian heard the phrase “that´s so gay” so much that they often felt isolated and suffered from adverse health symptoms such as eating problems, headaches, and little appetite. Almost every participant also mentioned that they had heard the phrase “that´s so gay” at least once during the 12-month study period. As well, half of the group felt that they had heard the phrase over 10 times on campus and only 14 participants (13 percent) noted that they hadn´t heard the phrase used at all.

The investigators believe that it is possible that the uptick of health problems and feelings of isolation could be due to the experience of hearing the phrase “that´s so gay” multiple times on campus.

As such, the investigators believe that it is necessary for college administrators to look into addressing this language and working to remove “that´s so gay” from student vocabulary.

“Policies and educational programs are needed to help students, staff and faculty to understand that such language can be harmful to gay students. Hopefully, these initiatives will help to eliminate the phrase from campuses,” commented Woodford in a prepared statement.

While the phrase is used in the vernacular of young adults, educators believe that students may not be knowledgeable of how the term came about. In 2007, “that´s so gay” was addressed in a student lawsuit. A female student at Maria Carillo High in Santa Rosa, California used the term and was disciplined by educators. The parents of the student fired back with a lawsuit, claiming that the school violated First Amendment rights of their daughter.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this girl didn't even know the origin of that term. The kids who get caught saying it will claim it's been decontextualized, but others will say, `No, you know what that means.' It's quite talked about,” Rick Ayers, who helped compile and publish “Berkeley High School Slang Dictionary,” told the Associated Press.