21 LGBTQ+ Docs, Movies, and Shows to Stream Now
What to Stream This Weekend: Films That Accurately Portray the LGBTQ+ Experience
June is Pride month, but there should be room for pride any time of year, right? In fact, we insist you be prideful and watch these rainbow movies all year long.
As the LGBTQ+ community forges ahead on the road to equality, there are still many speed bumps along the way.
So often, it seems like the rainbow flag is flown for profit until June 30, whereupon we are back to the corporate norm. In actuality, there are many flags celebrating the many faces of the LGBTQ+ community, and thankfully, those flags, and the beautiful people they represent, seem to be more and more visible each and every summer.
That said, there is still plenty of injustice, and it overwhelmingly effects one certain group of the LGBTQ+ family: Black transgender women. Research from A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in the United States in 2019 shows that of all the transgender or gender non-conforming people who were violently killed in 2019, 91% of them were African-American women.
To honor the entire range of gender, each shade of beautiful human, and every single color on those varied, celebratory flags, we gathered quite a few streaming essentials, from the classic gay movie must-see to more obscure LGBTQ+ films. These documentaries, films, and shows are available to stream right now to let you see just how beautiful this diverse community can be.
We’re here, we’re queer, get used to watching us on TV.
Candy Darling was a transgender pioneer and a fixture in Andy Warhol’s New York City of the 1960s. Her life and legacy would go on to inspire Madonna, David Bowie, and Lou Reed, who referenced Darling in his lyrics at the time, along with her friends Holly Woodlawn, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Jackie in “Walk on the Wild Side.” This intimate documentary uses rare archival footage interviews with Warhol, members of his Factory, and Tennessee Williams, plus new interviews with colleagues, contemporaries, and friends including Woodlawn, John Waters, Fran Lebowitz, and more. This is gay cinema at its most fabulous and queer.
A young gay man with cerebral palsy, played by Ryan O'Connell, branches out from his insular existence in hopes of finally going after the life he wants. This semi-autobiographical comedy, created by O'Connell and based on his memoir “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” received four Emmy nods, including Outstanding Short Form Series. Often vastly underrepresented in any medium, that rings especially true for men and women with disabilities in the LGBTQ+ community. O'Connell is working to officially changed that, and we couldn’t be happier with him, and his resulting awkwardly hilarious series.
The category is … Streaming. Pose showcases the underground voguing culture of the 1980s in New York City. By now, you have undoubtedly heard of Billy Porter (and that tuxedo) but he shines among the LGBTQ+ characters in this FX dance musical. House mothers and Balls might be new to younger viewers vernacular, but they were the words of the day back in the Pose-era. Celebrating every shade, sexuality, and gender of humans, this show became a cultural phenomenon — not surprising for something with Ryan Murphy’s name on it — so much so that season one received numerous award nominations including a Golden Globe for Best Drama Series as well as Best Actor for Porter. He would later become first openly gay black man to be nominated for and win in an Emmy leading acting category. Fun and full of camp, this is an easy binge at only two seasons (with a third on its way).
Larry Kramer In Love and Anger
Author, playwright, HIV/AIDS activist, and founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP, Larry Kramer is the focus of this true story of one of the most important figures in gay America. With his recent passing in May 2020, during a global viral pandemic, this documentary from 2015 seems more poignant now than ever. From the initial scene of an angry Kramer screaming to the images of dying AIDS patients, this film is a reminder of how different the fight against AIDS was a mere 30-some years ago. With the advent of PrEP — Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis — a lot of young gay men might forget, or may not even understand the long, hard battle it took women and men like Kramer to get us all here. #Respect
A Fantastic Woman
Marina Vidal, portrayed by Daniela Vega and Orlando, portrayed by Francisco Reyes are madly in love and planning a future together. After the untimely passing of Orlando, Vidal is treated with unfounded suspicion about his death. His ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral and his son threatens to throw her out of the apartment she shared with Orlando. Vidal is a trans woman and for most of Orlando's family, her sexual identity is an unwelcomed perversion. This Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language Film is worth navigating the subtitles.
This film goes down as the first mainstream American movie to address HIV/AIDS, gay culture, and the all-to-familiar accompanying discrimination. Andrew Beckett, played by Tom Hanks (the role for which he won his first Academy Award for Best Actor) is an HIV-positive man who is fired from his job due to his condition — a fight that still plagues many LGBTQ+ people today. He hires homophobic lawyer Joe Miller, played by Denzel Washington (who won the Oscar one year prior for his portrayal of “Malcom X”) as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit. If you’ve seen it before — doesn’t matter — it’s time to see it again.
Hedwig And The Angry Inch
John Cameron Mitchell writes, directs, and stars as the protagonist in this 2001 gender-bending cult-classic about a Hedwig, who was born male as Hansel in East Berlin and underwent gender reassignment surgery to marry the man she loved. It didn’t quite work out that way, and years later, Hedwig is leading her rock band on a tour of the U.S., telling her life story through a series of concerts which lead to more unfortunate love stories for her to tell. Iconic, classic, and campy as hell, this film should be required watching for all LGBTQ+ folks.
One of the first series on the brand-spanking new Logo network in 2005, this dramady focuses on four Black gay best friends living in Los Angeles. The formula may not be groundbreaking, but the stories it is portraying are, as until then, the Black gay community was (and frankly still is) underrepresented in mainstream LGBTQ+ culture. Hats off to you Logo and “Noah’s Arc.”
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
If you have heard of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, then you are familiar with Marsha P. Johnson — or at least you’re familiar with her work. She was known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, and co-founder the gay and transgender advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite* Action Revolutionaries) with friend and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera. This 2017 documentary is loaded with archive footage paying homage to Johnson’s positive attitude and tireless work for LGBTQ+ rights.
*The use of this term is outdated and considered offensive to many in the transgender community. It remains in this story since it is the original name of the now defunct organization.
Visible: Out on Television
Some of us were not as lucky as the kids of today who have their choice of gay people, queers characters, or any LGBTQ+ people readily available on primetime TV shows. This is the story of how that began to change, up to where we are now, and what the future holds. Featuring some of the most famous faces of the LGBTQ+ community speaking candidly about their experiences in media — from ignoring the AIDS crisis in the 1980-90s under President Ronald Reagan to Ellen coming out on television to "Brokeback Mountain," Don Lemon, Rachel Maddow, and Anderson Cooper being welcome faces in homes every night. The history of our wild and beautiful LGBTQ+ friends and family on TV was surprisingly absent for a very long time, and this five-part docuseries explains why.
This Best Picture Academy Award-winning drama, takes a look at the black experience through an LGBTQ+ lens. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's unpublished semi-autobiographical play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue," it tells the story of Chiron from his upbringing in a poor Miami neighborhood through his journey of discovering how his black male identity intersects with his sexual identity as a gay man.
You can’t have a list of positive gay role models to watch without including the “Fab Five.” Season Five of this Netflix TV show takes the team to Philadelphia where heart-warming hilarity ensues. If you haven’t seen the first four seasons, well … we know what you’ll be doing this weekend.
My Own Private Idaho
This is a blast from the past and it's worth the revisit. Gus Van Sant has created a number of weirdly stunning masterpieces (this isn’t even the only one on our list), and this film falls nicely into those of his earlier work. Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix star in this drama about Mike Waters (played by Phoenix) befriending streetwise Scott Favor (played by Reeves). Waters lives on the street as a narcoleptic hustler while Favor comes from a rich family and is hustling as a means of rebelling against his own upper class background. This queer masterpiece follows their journey, tests the idea of sexual orientation, and it’s pretty amazing, if not heartbreaking at times.
Another one from Gus Van Sant, this Academy Award-winning film is based on the real-life Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. The film follows his life from the age of 40 until his assassination with Mayor George Moscone by Dan White on November 27, 1978. The casting of herterosexual Sean Penn as gay Milk made headlines back in 2008, but Penn delivers an unparalleled, emotionally-charged, Oscar-winning performance as the LGBTQ+ martyr and icon.
Portrait of Jason
It can be hard to believe someone this unforgiving in his unabashed fabulousness existed in the racially-charged era of the 1960s in America, but Aaron Payne, AKA Jason Holiday, is the character in this once thought to be lost documentary we never knew we needed. A copy of the film was discovered in 2013 and has since been restored. This 12-hour interview boiled down to a digestible 90-minute meal of flamboyant extravagance will leave you satiated, without a doubt. Holiday is a would-be cabaret performer and self-proclaimed hustler who, while drinking, smoking cigarettes, and enjoying weed, splashes stories of what it was like to be black and gay during the civil rights era.
This film is as uncomfortable as it is important. With gay conversion therapy only banned in 20 states, it’s unbelievable to think that these sorts of situations can still go on today. Starring Russell Crowe as Baptist preacher Marshall Eamons and Nicole Kidman as his wife Nancy, the true star of this film is Lucas Hedges who plays the couple’s son Jared. Within the reparative therapy program, the effects of the abuse cause distress and break people in various different ways shown through the supporting cast. Not a light-hearted film, we recommend you prepare yourself emotionally ahead of time for this one.
Paris is Burning
Pose, mentioned earlier, is inspired by the culture this documentary by Jennie Livingston iconically portrays. It introduces us to drag queens living in 1980s New York City and their "house" culture — a chosen family that provides a sense of community and support for the flamboyant and socially shunned performers. It also addresses issues of racism and poverty and features interviews with a number of renowned drag queens, including Willi Ninja, Dorian Corey, and Pepper LaBeija. In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." This, among many, many other reasons is why you see this on every single must-see list of LGBTQ+ films.
HBO’s unofficial offset of RuPaul’s Drag Race (there is no relation, other than the three queens became household names thanks to Ru’s significant series) follows Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O'Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley as they travel to small towns and recruit residents to step outside of their comfort zones. You’ll start watching for the drag, but you’ll end up staying for the story, as each episode offers a heart-felt, touching, life-changing experience. We’re not crying … YOU’RE crying!
Naz & Maalik
Rarely does a film venture into the territory of sexuality, politics, race, and religion without portraying someone with one or all of those qualities as the bad guy. Not Naz & Maalik. This is a beautiful love story of two first-generation, Black, Muslim teens who are classmates, friends, and as a closeted gay couple. While trying to keep their love secret, it’s that behavior that inadvertently sets off red flags among those still fighting the War on Terror in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Whether or not their lives are ruined, they are certainly forever changed.
Circus of Books
OK, who wouldn’t want to watch a documentary about an elderly, straight Los Angeles Jewish couple who owns and operates a gay sex bookstore? Yeah, we didn’t think so. This documentary tells the story of said nice Jewish couple — through the eyes of their director daughter — who ran Circus of Books, a porn shop they bought in 1976, which grew into the biggest distributor of gay porn in the United States. So grab your popcorn, vodka drink of choice, and saddle up for some good ole’ fashioned gay porn fun.
"Difficult Love" is a highly personal take on the challenges facing Black lesbians in South Africa. This intimate, thought-provoking portrait of internationally celebrated South African lesbian photographer, Zanele Muholi, features interviews with Muholi as well as with her friends, colleagues, and peers, and provides a compelling overview of the artist, her life, and her work. Where many people say “homosexuality is not African,” this poignant documentary tells us Muholi begs to differ … loudly. If you’re sitting on your comfy gay-friendly couch in your comfy gay-friendly world, this documentary about a young woman fighting to simply be herself will open your eyes to just how blessed you actually are.
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