At Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 2002, freshman Rebekah Rice was being teased about being a Mormon by a few of her classmates. One mocked her: “Do you have 10 moms?” Rebekah responded: “That’s so gay.”
Their repartee ended when teacher Claudine Gans-Regebregt intervened. Guess whom she sent to Principal Mark Klick’s office? Guess who received a written warning from Principal Klick? Bingo: Rebekah Rice.
Rebekah’s parents, Eden and Katherine Rice, then filed a lawsuit against the school alleging that Rebekah’s First Amendment rights were infringed. Rebekah, they claimed, was punitively punished for using a phrase that “enjoys widespread currency in youth culture.” Rebekah testified that the phrase means “That’s so stupid, that’s so silly, that’s so dumb,” and that she did not use it in reference to anyone’s sexual orientation.
We can confirm Rebekah’s intent in the use of the phrase, “That’s so gay,” to mean what she says it does. Back in our June 1999 issue, we printed a letter from Richard Bruce of Davis, Calif., who said, “At one time ‘gay’ meant happy, more recently it meant homosexual, and now it has a new meaning. Teens use it to mean lame. Instead of saying, ‘That’s so lame,’ they say, ‘That’s so gay.'” We replied in an Editor’s Note in that same issue that “in this case, it seems…teenagers [are] engaging in a little linguistic outlawry.” In Rebekah’s case, it is outlawry indeed.
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