The Phrase “That’s So Gay” Has Lasting Harmful Effects on LGBT Students

A new study in the Journal of American College Health found that the derogatory use of “that’s so gay” can have negative consequences on LGBT students.

Anyone that grew up gay — or grew up at all — knows that the playground is the nexus for all that is evil in the world. There, kids hone the bullying and taunting techniques that will lead them, if they’re lucky, into a life of public service. Calling something or someone gay is just another way to raise oneself up by putting someone down.

That kind of behavior lasts from grade school, through high school and even into college, where the study focuses its attention. Michael Woodford, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan, along with his colleagues, surveyed 114 gay, lesbian and bisexual students aged 18-25.

As reported by CBS Detroit:

Students reported how often they heard the phrase on campus in the past 12 months. They also answered questions about their perceived social acceptance on campus, physical well-being, mental health and willingness to disclose their sexual orientation.

Data suggests gay, lesbian and bisexual college students who heard “that’s so gay” more frequently were more likely to report feeling isolated and to suffer negative health symptoms, such as headaches, poor appetite or eating problems.

Practically every respondent reported hearing “that’s so gay” on campus at least once in the past 12 months. Nearly half of the students said they’ve heard the phrase more than 10 times within the year. Only 14 respondents—or 13 percent—hadn’t heard it at all.

“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,” Woodford said. “‘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.”

Woodford suggested that colleges address “low level hostility” including language, to effectively rid the lawns and halls of academia of “that’s so gay” and its ilk. “Policies and educational programs are needed to help students, staff and faculty to understand that such language can be harmful to gay students,” Woodford said in a press release. “Hopefully, these initiatives will help to eliminate the phrase from campuses.”

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #bullying #journalofamericancollegehealth #that'ssogay stories and more


  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    But…but…but…Straight people don’t mean gay like gay, they mean gay like retarded! And gay kids totes think it’s cool to call things gay, too. Because after all, they’re homogenous now, and nothing like those other gay people.

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    But…but…but…Straight people don’t mean gay like gay, they mean gay like stupid! And gay kids totes think it’s cool to call things gay, too. Because after all, they’re homogenous now, and nothing like those other gay people.

  • Andrew

    That behavior does last “from grade school, through high school and even into college.” Just ask good ‘ol Mitt.

  • Meowzer

    I have finally broken my niece, who is now in her late 20s, to stop using the phrase.
    She would always say “I don’t mean it like that”, but I finally sat her down to say if she’s using the phrase to denote something stupid, she’s basically saying her uncle (my husband) and I are stupid.
    It’s taken about 10 years of nagging, but she finally stopped.
    Unless people are made aware, “that’s so gay” is going to continue. I’m glad I got at least one person to stop.

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones


    It’s taken about 10 years of nagging, but she finally stopped.

    That’s the saddest part of your comment. That it took 10 years for her to realize how offensive that phrase is, demonstrates how little het society thinks of us.

  • AndrewIB

    Oh grow up..there are far worse things than this..honestly are some people that precious,I’m not and neither are my friends..I have survived far greater slings and arrows of misfortune than a daft phrase like this polarising my very existence..Me thinks some are way to sensitive for their own’s a “Roll your eyes” moment at best, walk away and ignore or laugh at the intense silliness of the whole thing..Most gay people have to deal with far worse than this..learn to laugh at yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. you will win far more battles that way than legislating against things..

    Gay people are warriors by their very nature and I sincerely doubt that many would be emotionally crippled by someone saying something is “So Gay”..By reporting it you merely perpetuate it and keep the flame of hatred and phobia burning..

    Thank God I live in Europe..we seem to live in a far more enlightened one gives a rats ass what you are here, gay,straight,Bi or Transgendered.. Sleep with whoever you want, just don’t frighten the horses.

  • the other Greg

    (sigh) … jeez, get a grip. This study is referring to 18-25 year olds! These are adults, not kids on the playground getting beaten up.

    More importantly, I might have thought a site that calls itself QUEER-ty would notice the real semantic problem here. (“Clearly you’ve never read Derrida,” as a poster once said here – sending me into fits of giggles – but I assume he was referring to college students and not to third-graders.)

    Wouldn’t it be a lot easier for gays/queers to reclaim the phrase for positive stuff, than to go around petulantly demanding it be stamped out?

  • MickeyP.

    @AndrewIB: Love your answer! Grow thicker skin,people! Sleep with whoever you want,just don’t scare the horses! PRICLESS!

  • MickeyP.

    oops… PRICELESS!

  • GeriHew

    The phrase “That’s so gay” comes from the same place as “That’s so dumb” and “That’s so lame”. It’s an immature little place. Anyone who’s still using such expressions in their 20s seriously needs to grow up already.

  • ncman

    @AndrewIB: @MickeyP.: I agree with BOTH of you and believe we should also re-introduce the phrase “that’s mighty white of you” back into our everyday speech.

  • balehead

    it’s even more harmful when women/gays constantly say it to straight guys to make them feel awful…very true…most bullying is by gays against other gays…

Comments are closed.