10 Essential LGBTQ Documentaries You Must See

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It’s Pride month, and what better opportunity to pay homage to all of those in the LGBTQ community who fought the fight. Here’s our list of the 10 best LGBTQ documentary films that cover that ground from pre-Stonewall to current day. Happy viewing!

Paris Is Burning (1990)
Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, this quintessential film looks at the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Some critics consider it to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the Golden Age of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
This Netflix documentary uses never-before-seen footage and rediscovered interviews in a search for the truth behind the mysterious 1992 death of black transgender activist and Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson.

The Up Stairs Inferno (2015)
On June 24, 1973, an arsonist set fire to the Up Stairs Lounge, a New Orleans bar, resulting in the deaths of 32 people, including most of the congregation of New Orleans Metropolitan Community Church. It was the largest gay mass murder in U.S. history at the time, and no one was ever charged with the crime. This film goes beyond the tragedy and looks at the homophobic reactions and lack of concern by the public, government, and religious leaders.

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
This deeply affecting film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress. It documents the political career of Harvey Milk, who was San Francisco’s first openly gay supervisor. It was produced after Milk’s death using original interviews, exclusive documentary footage, news reports, and archival footage, so that Milk is credited as the lead (posthumously).

Before Stonewall: The Making Of A Gay And Lesbian Community (1984)
Revealing and often humorous, the award winning Before Stonewall exposes the fascinating and unforgettable decade-by-decade history of homosexuality in America, from 1920s Harlem through to World War II and the witch hunt trials of the McCarthy era.

The Freedom to Marry (2017)
This 2016 film offers the untold, inside story of this historic movement. It’s a riveting ride alongside Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto, the architect and the main litigator of the movement, and their key colleagues from earliest days of their journey to their final frenetic dash to the US Supreme Court.

Outrage (2009)
Outrage argues that several American political figures have led closeted gay lives while supporting and endorsing legislation that is harmful to the gay community. The 2009 film also examines the mass media’s reluctance to discuss issues involving gay politicians despite many comparable news stories about heterosexual politicians and scandals.

Before You Know It (2013)
The subjects of Before You Know It are no ordinary senior citizens. They are go-go booted bar-hoppers, love struck activists, troublemaking baton twirlers, late night Internet cruisers, seasoned renegades, and bold adventurers. They are also among the estimated 2.4 million LGBT Americans over the age of 55 in the U.S.

The New Black (2013)
The New Black is a documentary that tells the story of how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights. The film documents activists, families, and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage and examines homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar—the black church.

We Were Here (2011)
We Were Here documents the coming of what was called the “Gay Plague” in the early 1980s. It illuminates the profound personal and community issues raised by the AIDS epidemic as well as the broad political and social upheavals it unleashed. The film evokes an epic history, through the intimate recollections of five longtime San Franciscans whose lives were transformed by the epidemic.