Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saying “That’s So Gay!” is So Yesterday!

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has produced an ad campaign targeting young people who use the phrase, “that’s so gay,” as a general putdown for anything that they see as stupid, ugly, out of style, weird and so on. The campaign also targets parents and educators and provides resources for them to address the casual use of this putdown with young people. Check out the web site,

The casual use of “that’s so gay” and other anti-gay slurs like “faggot,” “dyke,” and “no homo” are common in athletics. When I work with collegiate athletes I often ask them to raise their hands if they have heard teammates or coaches use phrases like these in the last week or two. Typically, almost everyone, men and women, say that they have heard these words. I often then ask them to indicate if they have heard teammates or coaches object to the use of these phrases. Typically, very few indicate that they have.

When I ask the same questions of coaches, they typically say they do not hear anti-gay slurs at all. I guess there are several explanations for this disconnect. Maybe athletes use anti-gay words out of the coaches’ hearing. Maybe the coaches are not being honest because they know they should say something to stop this, but don’t. Maybe they are so used to hearing (and using) these words that they really don’t notice them.

The casual use of anti-gay words has become such a part of youth culture that many young people do not even think about what effect these words might have on friends, classmates or teammates who are gay, have gay family members, or are questioning their sexuality. School climate surveys conducted by GLSEN indicate that high school students rarely observe teachers or coaches intervene when anti-gay slurs are used.

Why don’t teachers and coaches speak up? Some don’t see the harm. Some do, but don’t know what to say. Some are afraid of being perceived as gay if they speak up. Some are too busy so they let it go. Some use these words themselves as a way to “motivate” or punish male athletes or, in the case of women’s sports, to inoculate themselves and their teams from the dreaded lesbian label.

It is difficult for me to understand how anyone who works with young people thinks that an atmosphere in which any kind of name-calling or casual use of slurs contributes to excellence in the classroom or on the playing field. It’s so yesterday.

If you are a teacher, a coach, a parent, an aunt or an uncle, speak up. The next time you hear a young person in your life (or an adult, for that matter) say “that’s so gay” or any of the other phrases that insult gay people and make the people who use them look stupid, say something. Don’t just let it go. It really does make a difference.

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