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Is It OK to Say “That’s So Gay”?

“Gay” is not a bad word. Originally, it meant happy and lighthearted. Now, it’s also a term for a person who falls in love with someone who is the same sex or gender. Your sex or gender means whether you are a boy or a girl. A gay man is a man who has romantic feelings for another man and wants to have a romantic relationship with a man. A gay woman, or lesbian, is a woman who has romantic feelings for another woman.

“Straight” is one term for a person who has these special feelings for someone of the opposite sex. So boys who like girls in this way and girls who like boys might be called “straight.”

But some kids use the word “gay” in a negative or mean way, as if it’s an insult. When they don’t like something or think something is weird, or they want to make fun of someone, they might say, “That’s gay” or “You’re so gay.”

Most kids who use the word “gay” this way don’t actually know what the word means. They may not know that saying it this way is rude and that it can offend people.

You can set an example for your friends by not using the word “gay” in this unkind way. You also can speak up if your friends use the word in a negative way. In a polite way, explain that it can hurt people’s feelings. Remember to be calm and don’t get angry or call anyone names. You can speak up without making a super-big deal of it, making your friends feel bad, or getting into an argument. Simply say what you think in a calm but definite way.

Your friends might ask you questions, like, “What’s wrong with saying that?” You can say, “It makes gay people and their families and friends feel bad.” Many kids who learn this will just say, “I didn’t know that” or “OK” and stop using the word in a rude way.

But some kids may tease you about speaking up. If this happens, stay calm. You can say, “You can’t change my mind by teasing me,” or “It’s not cool to talk like that.” Or you can go away and do something else. When everyone is feeling better, you can talk or play with your friend again. It can be hard to speak up, but you can feel good about doing the right thing. If you need help deciding what to say, ask an adult to help you.

Everyone is happier when we use words in ways that build each other up, not put each other down. A change for the better can start with just one kid — like you!

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: July 2015