The name Gay is an English and Scottish surname. It was derived from the Old French word Gai, meaning cheerful or carefree. It was often shortened to Gya and then spelled as Gaye. It is also the name of a river in India and the city of Gaya.
Originally, the term gay was an adjective, referring to things that are flamboyant and extravagant. Then around the mid-20th century it became a noun, referring to homosexual men. It is believed that homosexual men were the driving force behind this new definition as they felt that the word homosexual sounded too clinical, almost like a disease. The slang usage of the word to describe people who have sex with other men and/or women has also been around for decades.
As a result of the stigma associated with homosexuality, many euphemisms were developed to avoid mentioning sexual orientation. In mid-20th century Britain, for example, it was considered extremely offensive to openly identify someone as homosexual. It was common to refer to a bachelor as gay, which did not imply any sexual activity. This was reflected in the British comic strip Jane, first published in the 1930s, which referred to a free-wheeling single woman with many lovers.
As educators, we are often unsure of how to respond when students ask what does the word gay mean. It is important to practice different responses with colleagues and figure out what feels most comfortable to you. This will help you set a positive tone in your classroom and school community.