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Why "That's So Gay" is Offensive

It comes as no surprise that the term "that's so gay" echos around the Miami campus as often as the Beta Bells chime. Gay and Lesbian Miamians hear this phrase often, but alarmingly we been hearing it from some faculty and staff on campus.Below are three articles that deal with the term "That's so gay!" and why it is offensive to the gay and lesbian community.


That's So Gay
Liz Palmer, May 10, 2000,

I know you've said it. I've heard you say it. Who hasn't? You heard or saw something that you thought was stupid or ridiculous, and you blurted out, "Oh, that's so gay."That phrase is typically used to identify something as negative, and it's been in our vocabularies since about the third grade.

When you get older, you might figure out that degrading gay people isn't exactly a sign of sophistication and intelligence. You'll keep using the phrase, but you'll follow it with a disclaimer if you're challenged: "But I'm not homophobic. I don't actually mean anything against gay people. I have gay friends." It's the intentions of the speaker that count, not the word choice, you'll argue. Then you might complain about how "everyone's too PC" and how we should all just lighten up.

Consider it for a second, though: how could the phrase NOT perpetuate negative feelings about and stereotypes of gays and lesbians? When you say that something bad is "gay," you are in effect saying that being gay is bad. Imagine yourself as a teen struggling with your sexuality. Every day you hear "That's just so gay" from a dozen different places, including your friends. It becomes apparent that being gay is not a label you would want to have. Is there any wonder that gay youth have the highest suicide rate among teens?
Every time you say "that's so gay" -- even if you don't consider yourself homophobic -- it's like an endorsement for someone else to say it and really mean "I hate gay people." And no matter what you really mean, it still sounds like "I hate gay people" to a gay person, and how are you to know who is gay and who is not?

Believe me, it's hard for me to figure out how to talk to you about this, but some people have come up with effective ways to address the issue. A BRAT staffer had a class with a kid who could not seem to control himself from saying that everything he didn't like was "gay." The staff member asked him why he behaved that way, and the kid just blew him off and said, "I'm not really homophobic." The kid happened to be Jewish, so the staff member began remarking, "That's so Jewish" in front of the kid. "Hey!" the kid complained, "that's my religion!" The staff member said, "Now you get it," and the kid did.

What if, instead of using the word "gay" for things I don't like, I used it to describe things that are cool and interesting? Would you get it then? After all, some of the most creative and interesting people in history have been gay or bisexual. Then again, maybe that usage of the phrase would confuse you, but that's OK. Your current usage of the phrase confuses me, especially when you insist that you're not really homophobic. In fact, you kind of remind me of my friend's uncle, who would spout "nigger this" and "nigger that" at every opportunity, yet insist that he was not racist. I didn't believe him, and frankly, I don't believe you.

I guess I'll have to be creative when I talk to you or other people about the issue. "That's not very nice" usually doesn't cut it as a reason to change behavior, so I suppose I have to draw parallels to your life and to other explicit examples of prejudice. I need to make you more aware of how people perceive you, even if you don't truly mean any harm. It's inevitable that I'll encounter people who think it's too inconvenient to change their language or behavior, and people who can never seem to admit it's wrong, but I still have hope. You'd be surprised at the number of people I've talked to who have realized that it's better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.


That's So Gay!
Author: Regina Sewell, Published on: May 11, 2001,
Copyrighted by Suite101.Com. Used with Permission.

Oh my God! Can you believe she's wearing that? That's so gay!

No way! You went to the movies with your parents. That's so gay!

"That's so gay!" According to Kevin Jennings, the founder and executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, "That's so gay!" is one of the most frequently heard insults among second-graders, second only to "That's so stupid!" Second graders are not the only ones to use this insult. These words are not said as a compliment. Gay, in this context, is not a positive. It does not refer to something happy or good. It refers to something bad, uncool, socially unacceptable or simply not ok. More significantly, this expression is a condemnation of a particular group of people in our society who defy the societal norms of loving and being.

Why should we care? It sounds so innocuous. It?s not like calling someone a "faggot," "cocksucker," "bulldagger," "dyke," or "queer" -- or is it? And even if it is derogatory to homosexual and bisexual people, why should this be a "women's issue?" I'll tell you why. Condemnation of homosexuality is an expression of homophobia ? the fear or hatred of homosexuals. "That's so gay!" is an expression of homophobia. Still, you may ask, "Why should I care?" Here's why. Homophobia is rooted in misogyny - the fear and hatred of females. Think about it. When coaches call their male charges "girls" or "ladies," they are insulting them for being "like girls" or "like women." For little boys, that's the worse thing they can be. When boys on the playground say, "You throw like a girl!" they are insulting the person for being effeminate. When people obsess about "faggots" they are obsessed about men that they perceive to be like women. And let's be real. Society is much more obsessed (with angry, hateful thoughts) about two men kissing, fondling, or otherwise behaving sexually with each other, than they are about two women doing the same thing. At the same time, the terms, "dyke," "bulldagger," and "queer," are still used to keep women in their place because they indicate that such persons are even "lower" than women in society. It is a label used to indicate that the female in question is even more despicable than a "girl" or a "lady."

So when we hear our children, or other people's children, say, "That's so gay!" and do nothing about it, we are tacitly letting them know that not only is it ok to hate people because they are different, but that it is ok to hate women.

More significantly, expressions such as "That's so gay!" help perpetuate a culture of anti-gay/lesbian/ bisexual/transgendered (glbt) violence. According to the department of justice, gay and lesbian people are the most likely group to be targeted for a hate crime. When people who are presumed to be gay or lesbian (and note that this includes heterosexual people, bisexual people, and transgendered people as well as gay and lesbian people) are targeted, they are more likely to be beaten beyond recognition than persons targeted for their racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group. The gay-basher's weapon of choice is a baseball bat or similar implement. It's as if the attackers want to beat the humanity out of their victim. When murderers shoot or stab people that they presume to be gay or lesbian, it's not just once or twice, it's seven, ten, twelve times, as if the goal is to totally eradicate the person rather than to simply kill him or her. And in case you are in denial about what hate crimes are really about, think about Matthew Shepard, left to die on a fence post in Wyoming, or James Byrd (who, although he wasn't gay, was killed because he was black) who was dragged to death from a pickup truck in Texas.

Hate violence is not just targeted at adults. The Massachusetts version of the Center for Disease Control?s Youth Risk Behavior Youth survey (the only state to include sexual orientation in the questionnaire) indicates that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgenedered youth are targeted with a great deal of harassment and violence at school. According to Massachusetts survey results, high school students who self-identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were seven times more likely than other students to have skipped school because they felt unsafe. Data from different surveys in other states support Massachusetts? findings.

Being on the target end of this harassment is horrible. It?s not uncommon for students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian to be subjected to little and big acts of humiliation, to have "fag" or "dyke" written on their locker, to be "accidentally" pushed as they walk through the hall, to have their property vandalized, etc. One student in a self-defense class I taught, was "not allowed" to go into the bathroom at school if anyone else was in there. Another student was sexually assaulted because her perpetrator thought she was a lesbian. Given the hell that children perceived to be gay or lesbian go through, it's no wonder so many glbt or glbt questioning youth kill themselves. It also makes sense that authorities uncovered information indicating that the boy who shot 5 of his teachers and classmates in a school near San Diego had been subjected to anti-gay harassment. To me, the surprise is that such rampages don't happen more often.

So when you hear the kids on the playground saying, "That's so gay!" and do nothing about it, you are inadvertently supporting homophobia as well as misogyny and therefore bear some of the blame for the violence that happens as a result.


Gay Is OK
By Eric Hunter,,
volume 7, issue 37; Aug. 2-Aug. 8, 2001

Fag. That's so gay. Homo. Hearing words like these quickly takes me back to my grade school and high school days, when being called "gay" or a "homo" was my worst nightmare. Now when I think about it, sometimes I imagine that my tormentors didn't see using the word "gay" or "homo" as anything different from calling me "stupid" or a "loser." But regardless of which way they meant it, I knew it wasn't a compliment.

As gay and lesbian issues come to the foreground of mainstream America, awareness of gay and lesbian slurs is growing. But I am not sure tolerance for them is decreasing.

Avid MTV fans have, I hope, seen the public service announcements featuring Judy Shepard, mother of the slain Matthew Shepard. Each segment begins with jump cuts of angry teens walking down a hallway saying, "Fag" and "Homo." Judy Shepard then appears on the screen to ask us to speak up the next time we hear this type of discrimination. She finishes by tearfully warning us that we might not have a second chance.

Strangely enough, the misuse of the word "gay" has been an issue in my house for a few years now. For some reason, my best friend and I found it humorous to refer to things as "gay." Watching television, we commented on an actor or actress whom we didn't like as "gay." After seeing a movie we didn't particularly enjoy, we looked at each other and exclaimed, "That was so gay."

The sophomoric humor went on and on, much to the annoyance of my partner. Whenever he hears us call something "gay," he asks us to stop. But for some childish reason we didn't. Then this month, while pursuing the latest issue of Out, I read an essay by author Eric Marcus on this very same topic.

It turns out that despite growing up around Marcus and his partner, Marcus' young nephew Ryan had picked up gay and lesbian slurs from his classmates at school. Most important, he didn't make the connection between his gay uncle and the idea of the gay people he was discriminating against when he used certain words.

The story went something like this: Because of a discussion with Marcus related to a new book he is working on, Ryan's parents asked him if he knew that his uncle Barney, Marcus' partner, is gay. Ryan said he didn't know. That night Ryan asked his father, "Is Uncle Barney gay?" His father, who was surprised by the question because Ryan has known Marcus and his partner since he was a toddler, answered yes. Next Ryan asked, "Well, if Uncle Barney is gay, what does that mean about Uncle Eric?" Ryan's father answered, "Well, he's gay, too." Ryan answered, "How can they be gay? I thought 'gay' was something nasty."

Sometimes, when I try to make an excuse for my childish practices, I tell my partner that I am trying to take back the power of these words, "gay, homo and fag" in the same way activists tried to reappropriate the word "queer" with the establishment of groups such as Queer Nation. Of course, the point that I don't mention is that while I say I am trying to take back these words, I am not using them in any kind of powerful, affirming or positive manner.

If, as an out gay man, I have such a cavalier attitude about putting myself and my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters down, how can I expect anything different from other people? If I am truly honest about where this behavior comes from, I would have to say it is because I think I have never been the victim of discrimination because of my sexual orientation -- at least as far as I know.

Of course, that doesn't give me the right to abuse that luxury. Nor should I allow myself to live blindly disregarding the fact that we gays and lesbians can still lose homes, jobs and in many cases our lives -- all because of whom we love.

Happily, for both me and my partner, I am ridding myself of this embarrassing habit. More and more I am speaking up when I hear someone misusing the words "gay," "homo" or "fag." I find that these types of situations are a good opportunity to talk to people in an honest way about my life and what it means to be gay -- and make it clear that gay is OK.