Science says yes. A study by University of Michigan researchers asked 114 lesbian, gay and bisexual college students to report the number of times they heard the phrase, “that’s so gay,” on campus in the past year and then answer questions about their perceived social acceptance, their well-being, and their willingness to come out about their sexual orientation. More than half of the students reported hearing the phrase more than ten times in twelve months, and those who heard it the most were more likely to report feeling isolated and to suffer negative health symptoms, such as headaches or poor appetite.
Assistant professor of social work and study author Michael Woodford on the findings and their implications for how administrators address “low-level hostility,” saying, “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…Policies and educational programs are needed to help students, staff and faculty to understand that such language can be harmful to gay students.”
And it’s not just the words of classmates that can hurt. The impact of anti-LGBT messages was recognized by the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently came out in opposition of the state’s proposed ban on marriage equality and noted its likelihood the increase the social stigma its patients face. GLAAD encourages journalists to utilize the findings of this social science study when reporting on the impact of anti-gay bias. Words do matter, and the media should account for their potential to harm the LGBT community.