5 LGBT Documentaries to Watch After You Come Out

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In continuation of Movieline's LGBT History Month commemoration, we're racking up five amazing LGBT documentaries that newly out people of all ages, genders, socioeconomic statuses should see. The short list encompasses political, religious and cultural interpretations of homosexuality, and all are must-see movies featuring proud, self-possessed queers. Let's review the LGBT documentary past, from rallies to realness.

Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (1984)

Greta Schilling's powerful doc investigates the LGBT world leading up to the revolutionary riot between gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn and police offers in charge of persecuting sexual minorities. Amazing interview subjects abound, and plenty of fascinating subjects are bandied. Hope you're in no mood to enjoy Ronald Reagan. Eventually, the film won Emmy Awards for Best Historical/Cultural Program and Best Research in 1987.

Best moment: One lesbian activist, who frequented Harlem dance balls in the '20s, opines, "I do more bothering now with straight people than I ever did in my life."

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

As Harvey Fierstein's opening narration explains, Harvey Milk was much more than an openly gay official on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; he was a charismatic, funny, and perceptive politician whose ambition and vision far outlasted his tragically short life. The unbelievable story of Milk's beginnings, rise and eventual assassination alongside Mayor George Moscone at the hands of fellow supervisor Dan White is just as searing today. The definitive LGBT documentary won a much-deserved Academy Award for Best Documentary. You won't believe it took 30 years after Milk's death for Gus Van Sant's 2008 biopic to happen.

Best moment: After Milk and Moscone's deaths, the candle-lit vigil through the streets of San Francisco's Castro district is almost unbearably moving.

Paris is Burning (1990)

Jennie Livingston's unmatched documentary about drag queens in New York City who perform in voguing balls is just as fun, honest and devastating as it was all those years ago. You fall in love with the drag performers -- especially Dorian Corey and Pepper LaBeija -- and you're left speechless when you learn the fate of meek, delicate queen Venus Xtravaganza. You'll also never hear a more loving discussion of Dynasty characters.

Best moment: All the drag ball terms the movie defines, including "voguing," "realness" and "house mother," not to mention the salty commentary from the drag ball hosts.

The Celluloid Closet (1995)

Sixteen years after its premiere, The Celluloid Closet's chronological investigation of gay portrayals (and lack thereof) on the silver screen is a startling view. If the stock characters like the "sissies" of early film -- flailing types designed to make other characters look manlier and cooler -- don't intrigue you, you'll probably still love all the gay innuendos in Hitchcock classics. Plus, Lily Tomlin narrates.

Best moment: Gore Vidal explains the gay subtext in his screenplay for Ben-Hur.

For the Bible Tells Me So (2007)

This fine documentary visits with five religious families coping with the coming-out of a gay family member. Ultimately, it's a pretty family-positive movie, but it spares no detail when discussing the ramifications of blind faith on LGBT youth.

Best moment: Interviews with Chrissy Gephardt, the lesbian daughter of former House Majority/Minority Leader Dick Gephardt -- and a helpful skewering of Leviticus.


  • blizzard bound says:

    I would add "This Movie Is Not Yet Rated" to the list.
    Would be helpful for young people to see how the media controls our access to images of gay people. Its revelations on the prejudice of the notoriously tiny but absurdly influential clan of motion-picture raters towards films with gay content -- further limiting access -- is a must see.

  • blizzard bound says:

    would be helpful for anyone, for that matter.
    also: The documentary's revelations...
    (I am just waking.)

  • AS says:

    "The Making of Top Gun"?

  • Dan Tralder says:

    Came out last month. Seeing the documentaries, the history, the scars: it's scary how lucky I am that I wasn't born even 20 years earlier.

  • NP says:

    Fear not, baby gay. A good majority of us born 20, or even--*gasp*--30+ years ago are doing fine. It's good you know the history though.