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Definition of Gay
Video: What Does Gay Mean?
How Gay Came to Mean Homosexual
Gay Guyde: What Does Gay Mean?
Gay: A man who is romantically/sexually attracted to or
involved with other men. Clinically speaking, it refers
to homosexual men. It can also be used as an umbrella
term for everyone who has same-sex romantic/sexual
attractions or relations.
Gay is a word that primarily refers to a homosexual
person, especially a homosexual man. The term was
originally used to refer to feelings of being
"carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy." It had
also come to acquire some connotations of "immorality"
as early as 1637.
The term's use as a reference to homosexuality may date
as early as the late 19th century, but its use gradually
increased in the 20th century. In modern English, "gay"
has come to be used, as an adjective and as a noun, to
refer to the people, especially to men, and the
practices and cultures associated with homosexuality. By
the end of the 20th century, the word "gay" was
recommended by major LGBTQ groups and style guides to
describe people attracted to members of the same sex.
reject the term "homosexual" as an identity-label
because they find it too clinical-sounding. They
believe it is too focused on physical acts rather than
romance or attraction, or too reminiscent of the era
when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.
Conversely, some reject term "gay" as an identity-label
because they perceive the cultural connotations to be
undesirable or because of the negative connotations of
the slang usage of the word.
Style guides, like the following from the Associated
Press, call for the literary or journalistic use of the
word "gay" over "homosexual."
Gay: Used to describe men and women attracted to the
same sex. Though lesbian is the more common
term for women. Preferred over homosexual except
in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity.
Just as the word "gay" is sometimes used as a shorthand
for the term LGBTQ, so is "gay community" sometimes a
synonym for the LGBTQ community. In other cases, the
speaker may be referring only to homosexual men.
Starting in the mid-1980s in the United States, a
conscious effort was underway within what was then
called the gay community, to add the term
lesbian to the name of all gay organizations that
catered to both male and female homosexuals, and to use
the terminology of gay and lesbian, or
lesbian/gay when referring to that community.
So, organizations like the National Gay Task Force
became the National Lesbian/Gay Task Force. For many
ardent feminist lesbians, it was also important that the
L come first, lest an L following a G become another
symbol of male dominance over women. In the 1990s, this
was followed by another equally concerted push to
include the terminology specifically pointing out the
inclusion of bisexuals and transgender people,
reflecting an end to the intra-community debate as to
whether these other sexual minorities were part of the
same sexual liberation movement. In the 2000s it became
commonplace to add Q to the acronym, at first to to
recognize "questioning" persons and then to more broadly
encompass "queer" persons (an umbrella term for a
variety of sexual minorioties). Most news organizations
have formally adopted this use, following the example
and preference of the LGBTQ organizations, as reflected
in their press releases and public communications.
Today, many people interpret the phrase "gay community"
to mean "the population of LGBTQ people."
HRC: Responding to Children's Questions About LGBTQ
Does Gay Mean?
Video: Why Are Homosexual People Called Gay?
Queer Kid Stuff: What Does Gay Mean?
Kids: What Does Gay Mean?
There is not one right answer.
Many people have grown up without hearing the words
“gay” or “lesbian.” Therefore, you may not be sure how
to respond when a student asks you what they mean. It is
better to try to answer than to respond with silence or
evade the question. Practice different responses with
colleagues, just as you practice other things that you
want to learn. Figure out what you feel comfortable
saying. Responses will vary by age and developmental
stage of the student. Your comfort in answering these
questions will set a welcoming tone in your class and
Keep it simple.
An answer can be as simple as saying that "gay" means
"when a man loves a man or when a woman loves a woman."
Try to answer the question honestly without overloading
a student with information. Throughout elementary school
a student’s ability to understand what “gay” means and
what your explanation means may increase with
Focus on love and relationships.
A discussion with elementary-age students about the
meanings of “gay” or “lesbian” is a discussion about
love and relationships. You can just clarify that people
love each other in different ways. Some women love and
want to be partners with a man and some women love and
want to be partners with a woman. It can be helpful to
give concrete examples, such as “Tanya and Angela love
each other, and they want to be family to each other.”
Understand what the student is asking.
If a second-grader says to you, “Alexia said that
Ricardo is gay. What does gay mean?” You could
begin with, “Do you know why Alexia said that?” Or a
student could say, “I heard that Omar’s dad is gay. What
does that mean?” Listening first gives you a good idea
of what your student wants to know and needs to know.
Will your answer be about name-calling, defining what it
means to be gay, different kinds of families, or some
combination of answers?
Think about what messages you want to share.
--All people deserve respect.
--Making fun of people by calling them “gay” (or “sissy”
or “queer”) is hurtful. It can hurt both the student who
is targeted and anyone who hears it who may have a gay
relative or friend.
--Using the name of any group of people as an insult is
not OK, because it is most often based on negative
--People can fall in love and want to be in a
relationship with people of the same gender or with
people of a different gender.
--A gay person is someone who loves someone who is the
person is someone who cares about and is affectionate
with someone who is the same gender.
--A gay person is someone who is in a committed romantic
relationship with someone who is the same gender.
"gay" describes a man and a man or a woman and a woman
who love each other.
--It describes a boy who wants to have a boyfriend or a
girl who wants to have a girlfriend.
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