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The word “gay” describes a man who is romantically, emotionally, and/or sexually attracted to or involved with other men. As a sexual orientation, it can be further defined as an innate, enduring, inherent, and immutable pattern of feelings and behavior in which a man has an affectional, romantic, emotional, spiritual, sensual, and/or sexual affinity or desire for 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.


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.

Style guides, like the one used by Associated Press, call for the literary or journalistic use of the word "gay" over "homosexual." The term ”homosexual” tends to sound too technical to be appropriately used in writing, speech, and conversations focused on people and their relationships. Use of the term “homosexual” is only appropriate in the context of discussing academic, clinical, scientific, or medical research.

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.


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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 minorities). 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."


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Talking With 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 school community.

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 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” 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 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.

--A gay person is someone who loves someone who is the same gender.

--A gay 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.

--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.


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