Difference Between Gay and Queer

Main Difference – Gay vs Queer

Gay and queer are two terms that are used to describe sexual and gender minorities that are heterosexual. A gay person is a person who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Queer is an umbrella term that is used to refer to the entire LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). Therefore, the term queer is more inclusive than gay. This is the main difference between gay and queer. However, it is also important to realise that both these words may be sometimes used or perceived as an insult.Difference Between Gay and Queer - Gay vs Queer Comparison Summary

What Does Gay Mean?

The adjective gay is used to describe a person who is attracted primarily to members of the same sex. These people are sexually and romantically interested in people of the same sex. This means males who like other males and females who like other females. Thus, gay is equivalent to the term homosexual.

Although the word gay can be used to describe a person of both sex (e.g. gay person, a gay man, gay woman), it sometimes specifically refers to homosexual men. The term lesbian is sometimes used to refer to women who are attracted to women.

The word gay originally meant happy, carefree or bright; it was mainly in the 20th century that it was used to refer to homosexuality. Today, it is used as a both adjective and noun to refer to people, practices and cultures associated with homosexuality. However, this word is sometimes also used pejoratively to indicate derision. For example, a young person would use the word gay with a similar meaning to lame, weak or stupid. ( Ex: I think his obsession with her is totally gay.)

Difference Between Gay and Queer

What Does Queer Mean

Queer is an umbrella term that is used for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual or not cisgender. In other words, it is used to describe people who do not fit into gender and sexual identities that are not considered normal by society. Thus, this term can be used to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and asexual identities.

The term queer originally meant ‘strange’ or ‘peculiar’ and was used derogatorily against homosexual people in the late 19th century. However, by the end of the 20th century, scholars and activists reclaimed and reappropriated this term to establish a distinct political identity and community. This term is also used in academic contexts (queer studies, queer theory) to describe non-heterosexual identities.

Queer is often considered as a fluid label and many younger LGBT people use this term to describe their identities; however, some older LGBT people may find this term insulting.

Key Difference - Gay vs Queer

LGBT symbol flag

Difference Between Gay and Queer


Gay refers to people who are attracted to members of the same sex.

Queer can refer to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or asexual.


Gay is sometimes specifically used to describe men.

Queer is mostly preferred by younger LGBT people.

Original Meaning

Gay originally meant happy, carefree or bright.

Queer originally meant strange or peculiar.


Gay is used in quotidian context.

Queer is used in academic, political contexts.

Image Courtesy:

“Male homosexuality symbol” By Bazi – Own work (Public Domain) via

“Gay flag” By Guanaco and subsequent editors (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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