Ad Campaign: “That’s So Gay” Is Not So Acceptable Anymore

GLSEN Partners with New York Non-Profit Organization in Encouraging Students to “Think Before They Speak”


Published: October 30, 2008

“Think before you speak.”

This is the main slogan of a slew of new public service announcements released by the Advertising Council, a New York-based nonprofit organization that has teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to create ads to raise awareness about the offensive nature of casually homophobic phrases. The ads will appear in print, as well as on television, radio and the Web.

The campaign attempts to convey that connecting the word “gay” to something negative is insulting and disrespectful to the gay and lesbian community. The ads portray situations where the word “gay” could be misused and substitute in phrases that may be offensive to other groups.

For example, one print ad says, “That’s so ‘gamer guy who has more video games than friends.’” Another has text over a teenage girl’s face that reads, “That’s so ‘cheerleader who like, can’t like, say smart stuff.’” Both ads have a box at the bottom, which reads, “Think that’s mean? How do you think ‘That’s so gay’ sounds? Hurtful. So, knock it off.”

According to the Ad Council’s Web page, “Almost 90 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students report being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation.” These statistics point to the reason for the campaign’s focus on a young audience. Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) students, as young adults, make up the target demographic. So how are they reacting to the campaign?

When shown copies of the two print ads described above, FCLC students generally reacted positively to the campaign and its goals. Alex Randrup, FCLC ’12, thought the ads were “very cool.”

She mentioned that at her high school in Baltimore, “We used to make fun of [‘That’s so gay’] by saying ‘That’s so straight’ or ‘That’s so bisexual.’” Randrup said she appreciated that the message came across without attacking those who use the phrase

“I’m gay, and I used to be really offended by [the phrase],” said Randrup. “But most people who say it aren’t intentionally saying gay people are bad.”

This idea was echoed by Luciana Taddei and Gabrielle Bernard, both FCLC ’12.

“It’s used so frequently you get used to it,” said Taddei. “Some people don’t think about it.” Taddei and Bernard both said that they’ve used “gay” as a negative adjective before.

“It’s so engrained in you,” Bernard said.

Chris Chromey, FCLC ’12, said that he doesn’t use the phrase himself but knows people who do who have no problem with homosexuality. “For them, it’s just another expression,” he said.

Adam User, FCLC ’11, is one student who belongs to this school of thought. While he doesn’t use the exact phrase “That’s so gay,” he will occasionally say “You’re gay” to a friend as an insult.

“I don’t think you can knock someone for saying ‘You’re gay,’” said User, arguing that the offensiveness of a word depends on the context in which it is said. He said that he would be annoyed by the phrase if he were gay and people used it around him, but that in banter between friends, “[Gay] is just another word.”

Mathew Rodriguez, FCLC ’11 and president of the Rainbow Alliance at FCLC, said the popular use of phrases like “That’s so gay” and the recently prolific saying “No homo,” “set a precedent for it being okay to use language like that casually,” a trend that “needs to be tweaked.”

Vanessa Cook, FCLC ’10, agreed. “When people say ‘That’s so gay,’” said Cook, “[it] irks me to no end. I think it makes people sound completely unintelligent.”

Despite the positive reception of the ideas behind the campaign, many students interviewed critiqued the way those ideas were presented in the ads themselves.

Chris Barlow, FCLC ’10, liked the “Think before you speak” tagline but was unsure about how effective the comparisons between the groups of people were. “I don’t know if they communicate the message that clearly.”

Taddel and Bernard thought that while the ads were sure to catch people’s attention, their message might only be temporarily effective. Rodriguez was “not a fan” of the ads, saying that the comparisons (like those of a homosexual to a cheerleader or video-gamer) “equate something that isn’t the equivalent of gay,” thus defeating the point of the campaign.

Taddel said, however, that the campaign’s efforts are “better than not addressing the issue at all,” and Cook and Randrup agreed.

While the ads may do some good for young people across the nation, it looks like the Ad Council doesn’t need to worry about overstating its message to the politically correct student population at FCLC.