When Emily Conwell walks on Turlington Plaza, she slips on a pair of earphones. She doesn’t want to hear the passing students say “that’s so gay” or “no homo.”
Phrases like those get the 21-year-old psychology senior worked up because she said they hurt members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. According to a recent University of Michigan study, the phrase “that’s so gay” actually causes long-term negative effects on these students.
“Unfortunately, it’s a part of the conversation because it’s part of our vernacular today,” Conwell said. “It equates part of your identity that you can’t control with being stupid or ridiculous.”
The study was conducted via an online survey. About 100 people said they had heard “that’s so gay” at least once in the last year, and roughly half said they had heard it more than 10 times in the same time period. Only 13 percent said they hadn’t heard the phrase at all.
The study’s lead author, Michael Woodford, said students exposed to the phrase experienced frequent headaches, stomach issues and stress. They also reported feeling unwelcome on campus. The study examined 114 students ages 18 to 25 at an undisclosed public university.
Woodford, an assistant professor in University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, emphasized the importance of researching everyday interactions rather than examining only rare violent cases of discrimination like hate crimes.
“We need to start looking at these more subtle cases of discrimination, which are actually more pervasive on campus,” he said.
LB Hannahs, director of LGBT affairs at UF, agreed. She said derogatory terms embedded in everyday conversations are harder to combat because they’ve become socially acceptable.
Hannahs said she isn’t surprised encountering the phrase “that’s so gay” hurts students.
“Hearing these things every day creates a heightened sense of awareness that can take place of focusing on things like school, friends and sleep,” she said.
She compared frequent exposure to that kind of language to a constant poking as opposed to a one-time punch in the face.
“Micro-aggressions don’t make you flip the first time — or even the 50th time,” Hannahs said. “But as they build up over your whole life, it becomes a problem.”