(A Highly Subjective) Top 10 LGBT Documentaries for Pride Month

June 20, 2011 by Brooke Shelby Biggs in

It’s LGBT Pride Month, and with celebrations cropping up across the country, we thought we’d have a look at documentaries dealing with LGBT issues are. Here’s my personal Top 10 … feel free to suggest your own favorites in the comments section.

10. Two Spirits
The story of the murder of Fred Martinez, this documentary really peels back the curtain on the idea of a fluid gender spectrum and challenges audiences to reconsider their assumptions about identity.

9. Before Stonewall
This documentary is remarkable particularly for its release date — 1984. It is a simple examination of the gay rights movement that may not have been coordinated, but existed nonetheless, prior to the Stonewall uprising. First-person accounts of discrimination and bravery mark this early doc.

8. Tongues Untied

Marlon Riggs’s seminal 1991 film unpacks the complex issues of identity facing gay African Americans.

7. Paragraph 175
The title refers the provision in the German penal code criminalizing homosexuality. An estimated 100,000 gay men were arrested and sent to concentration camps under the Third Reich, and five who survived tell their stories in this 2000 film.

6. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
No other film captures the emotional human toll of the AIDS crisis as this one. It focuses on the NAMES Project, which created the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which toured the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The film tells the stories behind several of the panels created for people lost to AIDS.

5. Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria
This story of a lost chapter in the movement for gay rights is full of surprises. Three years before Stonewall, the drag queens and hustlers of San Francisco’s Tenderloin stood up to police harassment in a game-changing riot that set the stage for San Francisco to gain a reputation as an open and welcoming city for people of all genders and sexualities.

4. Ask Not
The most political film on this list, Johnny Symons’s film about the real cost of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may well have finally turned the tide against the policy. Released at a time when the United States was at war in two countries, Ask Not revealed how DADT was costing the military highly trained linguists and decorated career soldiers who happened to be gay.

3. Celluloid Closet
This 1996 film is funny, sad, and wonderfully illuminating about the machinations of old Hollywood, from the days of the Code through the founding of GLAAD. The film explores people in Hollywood who were gay long before coming out was an option, to the generally deprecatory way gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people were portrayed on film and television.

2. The Times of Harvey Milk
This Oscar-winning film is a portrait of the trailblazing gay leader Harvey Milk, as well as a snapshot of a time of change and upheaval in American history. Exhaustively researched, the film is a blend of archival footage and interviews with the people who knew Milk, as well as those who have inherited his legacy.

1. Southern Comfort
I chose this film as my top LGBT film simply because it explodes every assumption an audience could possibly have, and that makes it one of the most challenging films on this list. It is also among the most gentle and compassionate films. The story of Robert Eads, an FTM transsexual in the Deep South who is dying of ovarian cancer, neatly captures the very human struggle to connect, find acceptance, experience love, and die with dignity.

Brooke Shelby Biggs