Kumu Hina

15 LGBTQ+ Documentaries That Everybody Needs to Watch - Cosmopolitan Magazine

Consider these watch-list essentials. by Jasmine Ting - OCT 6, 2021

Now more than ever, queer culture is being embraced by the mainstream. Shows like Pose and Euphoria help shed light on the LGBTQ+ community and tell queer stories. But while diverse narratives like these are important for representation, to get a better grasp of the conversations going on about gender and sexuality you'll have to dig a little deeper.

If you want to really want to take a deeper dive into the stories of the LGBTQ+ community, you need to learn about real stories of real peopleAnd one of the best ways to educate yourself is through documentaries. We've compiled a list of the best LGBTQ+ documentaries that are essential additions to everyone's watch-lists.

Kumu Hina

Hina Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon. She lives "in the middle" as someone who is part of Hawaii's traditional third gender māhū and also a trans woman. This documentary follows Hina as she mentors a student who is also māhū and wants to join the all-male hula group in her school. It also shows Hina's romantic relationship with a young man from Tonga.

Paris Is Burning

This iconic documentary is referenced in much of popular drag culture today. Paris Is Burning focuses on drag queens in 1980s New York City, their legendary houses, and the dazzling fashion balls they take part in. It also tackles tougher themes such as poverty, racism, and the social shunning these performers face.

The Sons of Tennessee Williams

This doc goes all the way back to where drag balls were born: 1950s New Orleans. It looks at the evolution of the Mardi Gras krewe scene, and how it eventually helped push the gay liberation movement forward.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

Activist Victoria Cruz re-examines the 1992 death of LGBTQ+ icon—and Victoria's friend—Marsha P. Johnson, whose body was found floating in the Hudson River. Though back then authorities ruled the tragedy a suicide, many people in the community believe that Martha was murdered.

I Am Divine

This film is a comprehensive and captivating look into the life of Harris Glenn Milstead from his early life as a young boy in Baltimore to his rise as the legendary drag superstar Divine, which changed pop culture forever.

The Celluloid Closet

The Celluloid Closet explores the space that LGBTQ+ entertainers have occupied in Hollywood and the entertainment industry historically, and how it has shaped people's views of the community.

Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine

Matthew Shepard was the victim of one of the most notorious hate crimes in American history. The 21-year-old died after a targeted homophobic attack in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. In this documentary, his friends and family remember Matt and honor his memory with love.

Circus of Books

A couple tells the story of how they've come to own Circus of Books, a porn bookstore that over the decades has become an important space for the queer community in Los Angeles.


This film looks into the depiction of transgender people in Hollywood, and how it has affected the trans community and American culture. It features actresses Laverne Cox, Mj Rodriguez, and Angelica Ross.

Call Her Ganda

Jennifer Laude, a Filipino trans woman and sex worker, was found brutally murdered in a motel across from the nightclub where she found her clients. The primary suspect was a U.S. Marine on leave who was charged with homicide instead of murder. This documentary is an investigative look into the case, featuring three women who want justice for Laude.

A Secret Love

Pro baseball player Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel fell in love in 1947, but they kept their relationship a secret from family and friends because of the severe consequences of revealing their sexuality in America in the '40s. Sixty-five years later, they are still together and are able to share their love story—and all its ups and downs—with the world.

How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague tells the story of the efforts and the people who turned the tide during the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s. Though they weren't scientists, these men and women were able to bring attention to the disease and helped minimize tragic deaths caused by the AIDS epidemic.

All In My Family

Filmmaker Hao Wu, who is gay, decided to start a family by having children via surrogacy. In this short film, he documents how his loving but traditional Chinese family comes to accept the path he is taking.

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts

This documentary is an intimate look into the life of RuPaul's Drag Race star Trixie Mattel and the man behind all the makeup, Brian Firkus. It shows the reality behind all the wigs and glitter, the challenges he faced and continues to face professionally in the industry, and the toll it has taken on him and his personal relationships.

God Loves Uganda

God Loves Uganda explores how the American evangelical movement is influencing people in Uganda to take up conservative Christian values, with religious leaders trying to fight "sexual immorality," convincing their followers to follow biblical law, and fueling the demand in some for a proposed death penalty for homosexuality.

See the streaming options for all the films on the list here.

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