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The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as "an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes," ranging "along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex." Sexual orientation can also be "discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one's own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women)." According to Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, Braun (2006), "the development of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process.

Unlike members of other minority groups (e.g., ethnic and racial minorities), most LGB individuals are not raised in a community of similar others from whom they learn about their identity and who reinforce and support that identity.

The sixties marked the transition in the predominant meaning of the word gay from that of "carefree" to the current "homosexual". (1960), directed by Lewis Gilbert, about the antics of a British Army searchlight squad during World War II, there is a scene in the mess hut where the character played by Benny Hill proposes an after-dinner toast.

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In this use, the word rarely means "homosexual", as it is often used, for example, to refer to an inanimate object or abstract concept of which one disapproves.The extent to which these usages still retain connotations of homosexuality has been debated and harshly criticized.In English, the word's primary meaning was "joyful", "carefree", "bright and showy", and the word was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature.The application to homosexuality was also an extension of the word's sexualized connotation of "carefree and uninhibited", which implied a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores. Mac Dermott's music hall song of the 1880s, "Charlie Dilke Upset the Milk" – "Master Dilke upset the milk/When taking it home to Chelsea;/ The papers say that Charlie's gay/Rather a wilful wag!Such usage, documented as early as the 1920s, was likely present before the 20th century, or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon (1941), which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is "Gay". " – referred to Sir Charles Dilke's alleged heterosexual impropriety.

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