A new study of LGBT college students has found that students who often hear the word “gay” to describe something negative, stupid, uncool, or worthy of mockery — as in the commonly-used phrase “that’s so gay,” for example — feel more isolated than their peers and are at an increased risk for a whole host of negative health problems like headaches, poor appetite, and eating disorders.
The study, conducted by faculty and graduate students at the University of Michigan and Appalachian State University and published in the current issue of the Journal of American College Health, asked students to report how often they heard the phrase “that’s so gay” on their college campuses over the past year. Respondents were also asked questions about their physical and mental health, how willing they are to publicly disclose their sexual orientation, and how socially accepted they feel on campus.
And the results are rather jarring — CBS Detroit reports that nearly every participant reported hearing “that’s so gay” on their college or university campus during the last twelve months, and almost half said they’d heard the phrase more than ten times during that same period. Only thirteen percent of respondents said they hadn’t heard it at all.
Michael Woodford, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the study, told CBS Detroit:
“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. ‘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 results of this latest study appear to corroborate a whole host of other scientific studies on the effects of social rejection on LGBT students. In 2009, for example, San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics that found that LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times more vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs than their non-LGBT counterparts. Gay Star News reports that a recent study of bullied LGBT students conducted by Professor Ian Rivers of London’s Brunel University found that over 50% had contemplated suicide at the time the harassment took place, and 40% had harmed themselves in some way.
In a press release, Woodford said that in the interest of the physical and mental well-being of LGBT students, colleges and universities should do everything they can to make “that’s so gay” an unacceptable phrase on their campuses, and that action must be taken to address “low-level hostility,” including language:
“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.”
Incidentally, the first thing that came to my mind after reading this article is that awful song co-written and performed by pop star Katy Perry, “Ur So Gay.” I distinctly remember the first time I heard it — its subtle homophobia turned my stomach — and it still angers me to this day. In light of the results of new study, Ms. Perry should drop this song from her repertoire immediately and apologize for the harm she’s caused to LGBT people by helping to legitimize the use of “gay” as a pejorative term.