The gay community is a socially constructed collective reference that refers to those people in society who are homosexual, and who interact to some degree with other homosexual people, in the pursuit of some common homosexual-related interest. The term is also sometimes seen more broadly as including people whose sexuality or gender identity is outside the mainstream heterosexual norm.
The concept of a 'gay community' is a relatively recent construct, whereby people who are homosexual, or, in broader terms, people who are of a GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) sexual or gender orientation, are perceived as having some commonality of interest, and some level of interaction or connectedness with each other, often to advance perceived common objectives - whether social, political, sexual or others.
Prior to the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, there existed a less visible form of gay community that usually operated behind closed doors and was centered around socializing. Political and social advancement of what might now be seen as gay civil rights issues was in an early, or non-existent, state of development prior to this time in most countries. There were gay people before 1969 who might today be categorized as gay activists, but they lacked general gay community support, as many GLBT people were concerned at this time about being public about their sexuality due to fear of being discriminated against. 
The growing visibility of a collective grouping branding itself as 'the gay community' caused a backlash by some people opposed to homosexuality. One of the notable examples was a 1977 campaign, widely reported in the US, led by a former beauty queen and spokesperson for an orange juice company, Anita Bryant, whose 'Save Our Children' campaign caused the repeal of previously enacted anti-discrimination laws in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This in turn saw a renewed mobilization by many into a gay community movement across the US.
The same region of the USA provides a useful illustration of the evolving and 'sporadic' rates of change in social acceptance experienced by gay people in various regions around the world. A new campaign was mounted in Miami-Dade County in 2002, seeking to overturn a 1998 reinstatement of similar anti-discrimination laws including GLBT people. Reflecting shifting American attitudes towards the gay community, the 2002 ballot saw funding to retain the new anti-discrimination laws being provided by various corporations, and, on this second occasion, voters rejected the attempt to overturn the laws that provide certain legal protections to GLBT people in the region.
In or 'out'?
The term 'in the closet' is used to refer to people who are gay but prefer not to reveal this. The opposite is referred to as being 'out' of the closet. Whether one is 'in' or 'out' can vary with different individuals, or groups of people, including family members, work colleagues or friends.
As with other collective groupings in society, the gay 'community' is comprised of many different individuals with many different individual circumstances in life, often with unique and very different personal backgrounds. To suggest that there is a single 'gay community' necessarily subsumes the individual's experience into the collective representation, which is of course simplistic but nonetheless may be useful in considering how the lives of GLBT people can be different from - as well as the same as - the mainstream experience. One common bond between most members of the gay community is the fact that homosexuality in most cultures is the exception rather than the social norm. This aspect of 'otherness' from mainstream society can create a commonality of experience that is shared by many members of the gay community across geographical boundaries, legal systems and cultural backgrounds. Some individuals who happen to be lesbian or gay prefer to not see themselves as forming part of the collective grouping known as 'the' gay community, although by interacting with it to even a limited extent in their daily lives they may nonetheless contribute to its existence, even where they might disavow being a member of it.
It is possible to contend that not all homosexual people should necessarily be viewed as members of 'the gay community', as some may live lives not involving any significant interaction with other homosexual people at all, in the sense of not interacting with other people who are behaving during any such interactions as 'members' of the gay community themselves. The very concept of belonging to a gay community is also one that is, on differing occasions, both embraced as well as disrespected by many who might be considered to be members of it. Some of the strongest and most visible affirmations of membership of a unified gay community occur in the context of annual GLBT community events, such as Pride and CSD events, where GLBT people gather to publicly celebrate their difference from the mainstream.
As gay people become more integrated into mainstream society in some countries such as the United Kingdom, with most if not all of the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual people, some have questioned the current relevance of notions of a gay community. Others see a continuing need for concepts of a commonality of interest between gay people across the world - as contained in the 'gay community' concept - especially in relation to some countries where homosexuality remains illegal, or not widely accepted within society. Even then though consensus is not always easy to arrive at. Some gay people across Russia currently appear conflicted between becoming supporters of a more visible gay community - as a means of seeking improved social acceptance in their country - or attempting to be unnoticed by the mainstream, so as to avoid stirring up anti-gay sentiment.
Gay and lesbian voters in some countries have in recent years come to be viewed as a potential source of votes by politicians willing to seek to try to appeal to gay community causes. In August 2007 the leading contenders for the Democratic party nomination in the 2008 US Presidential elections spoke at a GLBT community forum in Los Angeles, organized by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign and broadcast on the Viacom gay targeted TV channel, Logo.
- Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. Vern L Bullough. 2002. The Haworth Press. ISBN 1560231939
- Slamming the Closet Door. David J. Garrow. May 30, 1999. New York Times. Retrieved: August 11, 2007
- Gay rights debate rages on 30 years after Miami-Dade challenge. Steve Rothaus. June 9, 2007. Miami Herald. Retrieved: August 11, 2007
- Anita Bryant's Battle Is Back: Miami-Dade County To Vote On Repeal Of Gay Rights Ordinance. David J. Garrow. September 10, 2002. CBS News. Retrieved: August 11, 2007
- Closet UK: 49% of gay people are too scared to come out at work. Steve Bloomfield. January 29, 2006. The Independent. Retrieved: August 12, 2007
- The Kingdom in the Closet. Nadya Labi. May, 2007. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved: August 11, 2007
- Rights Movement Divides Russia's Gay Community. Anton Troianovski. August 11, 2007. Washington Post. Retrieved: August 11, 2007
- Gay voters scrutinize Democrats. Steve Gorman. August 10, 2007. Reuters. Retrieved: August 11, 2007