That's so gay.: Deconstructing the word gay and its place in the daily parlance of high school students

Kenneth Michael Schneck, Fordham University


Gay high school students do not have it easy. The latest statistics paint a harrowing picture of physical and verbal harassment, with the latter often occurring in the presence of school personnel who intervene only some of the time, and often never. The current popularity of the phrase that's so gay in the secondary school environment has made antigay harassment even more difficult to identify and address. In this study, the author uses a comprehensive case study of one suburban high school to deconstruct the phrase that's so gay, including its frequency of use, its perceived meaning, and its connection to the safety of gay students. The author performed qualitative group interviews with 122 students and a quantitative survey of 62 teachers and staff members. The resulting data reveal that the idiom is heard daily by students and has several meanings, all of which are negative. The data also indicate statistically significant correlations between the teachers' and staff members' perceptions of the phrase and their views of bullying and school safety. Through the use of the theory of discourse analysis, the author refutes the assertions of students, teachers, and staff members that the phrase is not connected to sexual orientation, instead drawing links between that's so gay and the interviewees' and respondents' negative associations with individuals who identify as gay. The author gives further consideration to the idiom within the context of school safety, using social representation theory to establish a connection between the pejorative use of gay in this ubiquitous phrase and the already documented negative experiences of gay students in schools. Finally, implications for students and school personnel, recommendations for schools, and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Subject Area

Educational administration|Secondary education|LGBTQ studies

Recommended Citation

Schneck, Kenneth Michael, "That's so gay.: Deconstructing the word gay and its place in the daily parlance of high school students" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3312045.