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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 LGBT groups and style guides to describe people attracted to members of the same sex. At about the same time, a new, pejorative use became prevalent in some parts of the world.
Some 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 LGBT, so is gay community sometimes a synonym for the LGBT 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. Most news organizations have formally adopted this use, following the example and preference of the LGBT organizations, as reflected in their press releases and public communications. Today, many people interpret the phrase "gay community" to mean "the population of LGBT people."
Talking With Kids: What Does Gay Mean?
There is not one right
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 school community.
Keep it simple:
An answer can be as simple as: “‘Gay’ means when a man loves a man or 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 development.
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,” “queer,” etc.) 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 stereotypes.
--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.
Sample responses to “What does gay mean?”:
A person who loves, in a very special way, someone who is the same gender. For example, a gay man wants to be involved with and love another man. A gay person may choose to have a special relationship with someone and share a home and have a family together.
--The word 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.
--“Gay” can refer to either men or women but it is sometimes used just to refer to gay men. Women who are gay are also called “lesbians.”
Sex & Gender Model
Center for Gender Sanity
Diagram of Sex and Gender
Wikipedia: Gender Identity
Gender Identity Development
Sexuality and Gender Identity
13 Openly Gay Men in the Media
Famous LGBT People are Everywhere
Famous Gay Couples
Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama