Gay


Gay is a term that has come to refer to individuals who exhibit not only a same-sex orientation and sexual preference (e.g., men who have sex with men), but also embrace a lifestyle based upon that orientation.

In other words, gays have "come out of the closet" or are overt, as opposed to being covert homosexuals or claim heterosexual identity but have sex or desire sex with members of their own gender. Gay is sometimes distinguished from homosexual in emphasizing the cultural, social and identity aspects of homosexuality.

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Although in recent years the term gay increasingly has come to be used to refer to both same-sex oriented males and females, it generally refers to the former. Indeed, many lesbian organizations reject the term gay as a self-designation, restricting it to males, although this view may be less common among younger lesbian women.

Historically, the term gay stems from the Old Provencal word "gai," meaning high spirited and mirthful. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the term referred to the behavior of a playboy or dashing man about town. By the 19th century, the term had come to also refer to a woman of allegedly loose morals. The term gay did not attain prominence as a self-selected term for openly homosexual individuals until the late 1950s and early 1960s. It became increasingly common in this usage by the 1970s and was established in general usage by gays and non-gay individuals alike by the 1980s.

Gay Men: A Distinctive Subculture

Gay men have established a distinctive subculture. Whereas the gay subculture in the United States and elsewhere has been in existence for some time, the AIDS epidemic that began in the early 1980s has particularly propelled it into the limelight.

In recent years, this subculture has come under increased scrutiny by both the general public and scholars in the social sciences and humanities.

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Indeed, gay scholars are among the leading figures in an interdisciplinary field now referred to as Gay Studies. This field of research and cultural commentary often takes on a social constructivist perspective, which is sometimes referred to as "queer theory".

Intentional use of terms like "queer" or "faggot" within the gay subculture reflects an effort to assert self-acceptance and deny the derision and rejection suffered by homosexuals in mainstream or "straight" society. Gay Pride marches are an expression of the effort among gays to affirm (both to themselves and to non-gays) their right to be gay and their pride and acceptance of their sexual orientation and various subcultural "scenes" (i.e., diverse recreational and lifestyle subgroups).

While scholars, many of them gay, have given increased attention to the white gay subculture, the gay subculture among persons of color has received comparatively little attention.

The Gay Social Network

The gay community consists of numerous social and cultural institutions, including social and political clubs, community centers, businesses, book stores, publications and other media, cafes, bars, other recreation and vacation institutions, social support and therapy groups, an extensive health education and service structure, and geographically-bounded neighborhoods. It also includes social networks and groups, as well as families or married couples. Because of their stigmatized sexual orientation, gays and lesbians often choose to socialize with each other in a variety of public places, such as bars and cafes.

Due to strong patterns of homophobic or anti-gay discrimination in small cities and rural areas, gays tend to move to and form identifiable communities in large and, to a lesser degree, medium-sized cities.

In the 12 largest U.S. cities, studies have found that 16 percent of individuals report some level of same-gender attraction or desire, and 9 percent report that they are gay or bisexual, compared to 7.5 percent and 1 percent respectively in rural areas. San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles appear to have the largest concentrations of gays in the United States.

Within these and other urban centers, gays often choose to reside in specific neighborhoods such as the Castro District in San Francisco, Greenwich Village in New York, West Los Angeles, and New Town in Chicago. Neighborhoods with a high percentage of gay residents are sometimes referred to as "gay ghettos" or "gay-friendly".

Gays have historically constituted a stigmatized social category in U.S. society. In most states and cities a gay person can legally be denied housing, employment, and public accommodations simply because of his sexual orientation. In response, many gays have created organizations that seek to further their rights, in much the same manner that African Americans and other ethnic minorities did during the 1950s and 1960s and women did during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Gay Movement's Watershed Event

The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 in New York City was a watershed event that qualitatively expanded the political activism that had been growing in the gay community since the late 1950s. This event constituted a spontaneous and militant act of resistance to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. Gay Pride Day is celebrated in June in cities throughout the country to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion.

Subsequently, gay rights were codified through the passage of civil rights ordinances in Portland, Oregon and St. Paul Minnesota in 1974, in San Francisco in 1978, in Los Angeles and Detroit in 1979, and in New York City in 1986. Wisconsin passed a statewide gay rights law in 1981.

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In response, singer Anita Bryant and TV evangelist Jerry Falwell led extensive homophobic campaigns which contributed to the repeal of gay rights measures in Miami in 1977 and later in St. Paul and Wichita. Gays have formed various national organizations including the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Names Project (which commiserates those who have died of AIDS).

Victories for the Gay Community

Victories won by the gay movement include the growing number of institutions and companies that provide same-sex partner health insurance and other benefits. At the political level, many gays and lesbians work in coalition with one another. Studies of voting patterns have found that 3.2 percent of voters nationwide identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In urban areas, this figure climbs to 8 percent.

Many gays also desire to have their committed relationships legally recognized as same-sex marriages. Presently, gays do not, for the most part, have the legal right to make medical, legal, and financial decisions on behalf of their partner should the need arise. Furthermore, they may not have access to their partner's employee health insurance or retirement benefits.

The onset of the AIDS epidemic has prompted many gays — often in coalition with lesbians and progressive heterosexuals — to agitate for HIV prevention programs and improved health care and treatment options for people living with AIDS, and to oppose discrimination against HIV infected individuals. The gay community played a leading role in pushing for changes in federal funding for HIV/AIDS research and services, and in accelerating access to new therapies of HIV/AIDS.

Copyright 2002 Sinclair Intimacy Institute

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