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Best educational and inspiring LGBTQ+ documentaries to watch now

Celebrate 50 years of pride with these galvanising documentaries.

Netflix's Disclosure
Netflix
Published: Wednesday, 1st June 2022 at 2:06 pm
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This year's Pride Month marks 50 years since the first Pride march took place in London. Much has changed since that first march in 1972, which saw around 20,000 people campaign for gay rights. And much has yet to change still.

It's a momentous occasion, one that offers an opportunity to delve into LGBTQIA history, and educate and inspire well beyond this rainbow-populated month.

The documentaries on this list are a testament to the figures and events that paved the way for new legislation, visibility and media representation, as well as the road that lies ahead.

There is Netflix's The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson, in which Johnson's friend Victoria Cruz investigates the trans activist's suspicious death in 1992, against the backdrop of rising hate crimes targeting trans women.

Plus, Olly Alexander's vulnerable exploration of LGBTQIA mental health in Growing Up Gay will be re-aired on the BBC as part of its Pride Month slate.

There is also Netflix's documentary Pray Away, which portrays how previous supporters of conversion therapy – which has not been banned for trans people in the UK – came to condemn it and, in most cases, embraced queer identities themselves.

Read on to find out what to watch this momentous Pride Month, and check out our Documentaries hub for the latest factual news.

Showing items 1 to 7 of 7

  • Disclosure

    • Documentary and factual
    • 2020
    • Sam Feder
    • 108 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    An in-depth look at Hollywood's depiction of transgender people and the impact of those stories on transgender lives and American culture.

    Why you should watch:

    There are few documentaries in recent times that have been as impactful as Disclosure – the Netflix film examining representation of transgender people on screen and how it’s affected the general public’s attitudes towards the community.

    Featuring interviews with the likes of Laverne Cox, Angelica Ross, Chaz Bono, Lilly Wachowski and Trace Lysette, this GLAAD Award-winning film emphasises just how important the media’s portrayal of transgender lives is when over 80 per cent of Americans don’t personally know someone who has transitioned.

    From highlighting harmful transgender tropes in film and TV and linking them to preconceptions held about the community, to celebrating more positive portrayals, Disclosure is a fascinating educational film that shines a light on where exactly commonly held prejudices around transgender people come from and how we should be squashing them.

    "It highlights the voices of trans actors and performers, and by discussing trans representation in film, it highlights what we have absorbed about trans people and challenges our learned transphobia," the MindOut team tells RadioTimes.com of the documentary.

    – Lauren Morris, Entertainment and Factual writer

    How to watch
  • Before Stonewall

    • Documentary and factual
    • History
    • 1984
    • Greta Schiller
    • 87 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    The history of the Gay and Lesbian community before the Stonewall riots began the major gay rights movement.

    Why you should watch:

    The Emmy-winning documentary Before Stonewall is a vital education on early gay rights history.Originally released in 1984, Before Stonewall presents a remarkable portrait of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community from the early 20th century to the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

    Directed by Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, and with narration from Rita Mae Brown, the documentary begins as an exploration of the cultural perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community before the event. As it progresses, Before Stonewall charts the rise of the gay liberation movement, culminating in the infamous 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

    This engaging history lesson is made all the more lucid with enlightening historical footage and amazing interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community, with some particularly poignant accounts from elderly lesbians and gay people who survived both World War II and the war that was waged on their identities.

    – Molly Moss, Trends writer

    How to watch
  • A Secret Love

    • Documentary and factual
    • Drama
    • 2020
    • Chris Bolan
    • 81 mins
    • 12

    Summary:

    Falling in love in 1947, two women -- Pat Henschel and pro baseball player Terry Donahue -- begin a 65-year journey of love and overcoming prejudice.

    Why you should watch:

    Concealing your love from the world is a cruel cross to bear, but that’s exactly what Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel were forced to do for decades. Their extraordinary, affecting story is the subject of A Secret Love, a Netflix documentary which was released back in 2020.

    Terry and Pat met and fell in love in Canada back in 1947, when coming out and living their lives as they wanted to simply wasn’t an option. Had they dared to walk down the street as lovers, they would have been vilified, such was the level of hostility reserved for members of the queer community, so they powered on in the only way they could.

    After Terry retired from professional baseball, she went to work with Pat at an interior design company, where they masqueraded as close friends and nothing more, before packing up at the end of each day and heading home to their secret life. The pair were inseparable, not living together for “safety” or to “save money”, as they told anyone who asked, but because they were head over heels for one another. But in spite of the acute homophobia that not only existed, but was socially encouraged, their love blossomed and thrived for more than seven decades, with the couple coming out to their families in their 80s, such was their concern about how their loved ones would receive the news.

    But while it’s desperately sad that Terry and Pat had to keep their love hidden, sacrificing so much to preserve their relationship, this is a tale of hope. The fear of being outed and the fallout from that hung over every aspect of their life together, threatening to pull them apart at any given moment, but they weathered the storm, against the odds, in the name of love. The documentary, understated in its approach, captures their devotion to and adoration for one another, rivalling any one of the great heteronormative love stories that have dominated popular culture.

    Telling their story on a platform as widely available as Netflix, while not able to right the injustice Terry and Pat suffered, will hopefully ensure that the Terry and Pats of the future feel safe enough to live and love as they choose.

    – Abby Robinson, Drama Editor

    How to watch
  • Olly Alexander: Growing Up Gay

    • Documentary and factual
    • 2017
    • Vicki Cooper
    • 60 mins

    Summary:

    The lead singer of the Years + Years explores why members of the gay community are more likely to be affected by mental illness, as he opens up about his own battles with depression.

    Why you should watch:

    From the outside looking in, Olly Alexander has it all. The Years and Years front man, who went on to star in Russell T Davies' landmark drama It’s A Sin, leads a glamorous and thrilling life which sees him headlining festivals and kicking it with the who’s who of TV at the BAFTAs. His dancing, megawatt smile and ostentatious style, which often involves glitter, and lots of it, scream a confident and happy soul.

    But beneath the surface it’s a very different story, as he revealed in BBC Three’s Olly Alexander: Growing Up Gay.

    In the 2017 documentary, Alexander speaks candidly about the anxiety and depression he’s been saddled with since his teenage years – a common burden for lots of people, but particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community. Through official findings and interviews with people who, like Alexander, were bullied at school or, in the case of one man, rejected by his family for no other reason than being gay, he illustrates just how destructive homophobia is. For Alexander and countless others, the trauma that they endured in their younger years never leaves them, regardless of future success or how content they appear, and becomes something that they must manage, or risk falling off the deep end.

    The documentary also highlights the positive impact of an education system that doesn’t sit on the sideline, with schools a crucial battle ground in the dismantling of the hatred and ignorance that has done immeasurable damage to the queer community.

    “If it’s a choice between kids having low self-esteem, feeling undeserving of love and ashamed versus encouragement and positivity for them to live as their authentic selves and be who they are, we have to do everything we can to make sure that happens,” says Alexander.

    What could be more beautiful and life-affirming than that?

    – Abby Robinson, Drama Editor

    How to watch
  • The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

    • Drama
    • Documentary and factual
    • 2017
    • David France
    • 105 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    Victoria Cruz investigates the mysterious 1992 death of black gay rights activist and Stonewall veteran, Marsha P. Johnson. Using archival interviews with Johnson, and new interviews with Johnson's family, friends and fellow activists.

    Why you should watch:

    Directed by David France, this documentary film explores the impact that its title subject – a drag queen and activist who was a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 – made in New York City from the 1960s to the early 1990s campaigning alongside fellow reformer Sylvia Rivera as part of the gay liberation and transgender rights movement, while also charting the efforts of fellow activist Victoria Cruz to uncover whether Johnson's death in 1992 – which was initially ruled a suicide – might have involved foul play.

    Partly a celebration of Johnson's life and activism, partly a sobering look at a belated investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding their death, The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson is by turns uplifting and upsetting, offering an eye-opening education on the struggles faced, victories scored and losses felt by NYC's LGBTQ+ community and its leading figures across four decades.

    – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

    How to watch
  • Where Have All the Lesbians Gone?

    • Documentary and factual
    • News and current affairs

    Summary:

    Lesbian director Brigid McFall and lesbian photographer Vic Lentaigne create a series of intimate, revealing portraits of what it means to be lesbian in 2022

    Why you should watch:

    Channel 4’s documentary Where Have All the Lesbians Gone? is a vital discussion of lesbian rights, pride, history and identity. Directed by Brigid McFall, with help from photographer Vic Lentaigne, this powerful and celebratory documentary offers a series of intimate portraits exploring the politics of being a lesbian in 2022.

    Through the interviews, which involve comedians Jen Brister and Rosie Jones, the documentary explores history-making lesbian moments in pop culture, from Brookside’s same-sex kiss in 1994 to The Killing of Sister George in 1968, as well as delving into what lesbian culture looks like today.

    The film asks why so many women attracted to other women are increasingly gravitating towards the terms ‘queer’ or ‘gay’ as opposed to lesbian, and what this means for lesbian culture and social history. But crucially, the documentary has been created with care and sensitivity – offering considered opinions rather than pushing an agenda.

    – Molly Moss, Trends writer

    How to watch
  • Paris Is Burning

    • Documentary and factual
    • 1990
    • Jennie Livingston
    • 73 mins
    • 15

    Summary:

    Documentary exploring the New York drag scene in the 1980s. Competition is fierce for those vying for trophies in the underground ball culture, where attendees (representing rival "houses") pose, vogue and walk their way towards a judges' table in numerous drag categories. It's a scene that draws together marginalised members of the gay and transgender communities and gives rise to legendary figures such as Pepper LaBeija and Angie Xtravaganza.

    Why you should watch:

    If you’re a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, then you’ll be familiar with 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning – however, it is so much more than just the inspiration for the show’s ‘reading’ challenge.

    Directed by Jennie Livingston, Paris Is Burning explores New York City’s house-ballroom scene in the late ‘80s, helmed by the African-American, Latino and LGBTQ+ communities in the Big Apple. Featuring drag queens like Pepper LaBeija, Angie Xtravaganza and Paris Dupree – who held the annual Paris Is Burning ball – the documentary sheds light on the elaborate competitions and important issues, from AIDS and racism to homophobia and poverty.

    A seminal documentary responsible for shows like Netflix’s Pose and HBO Max’s Legendary, Paris Is Burning is a celebration of a subculture that still faces persecution despite entering the mainstream – and a necessary watch for those who love Drag Race but know little about the history of voguing.

    – Lauren Morris, Entertainment and Factual writer

    How to watch
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