Pride 2020

26 Essential Queer Movies and TV Shows You Should Stream Right Now

Celebrate Pride with eye-opening documentaries, campy comedies, foreign dramas, and progressive cartoons.

Feel Good
"Feel Good" | Courtesy of Netflix
"Feel Good" | Courtesy of Netflix

Some of the best stories are queer. Inherently deeply complex and typically considerably more emotional than their cis-het counterparts, they go against everything the media raised us to believe about right and wrong. Since the early days of television, queer people have looked to movies and shows to find semblances of themselves on screen, and over the last few decades, Hollywood has taken great strides toward boosting LGBTQ+ representation and telling diverse stories. (That said, they could definitely take bigger steps.)

We’re living in an era with more queer content available than ever before, and so much of it deserves praise. Spanning nearly every genre, these are just 26 of the must-see LGBTQ+ movies, TV shows, and documentaries you can stream right now.

Listen to Kyler and activist, comedian, and general icon Margaret Cho talk about their favorite LGBTQ+ movies on Thrillist's Best podcast.

Bessie
"Bessie" | Courtesy of HBO Films

Bessie (2015)

Bessie Smith helped define the Jazz Age as an openly bi blues singer who inspired generations of performers that followed. Nearly a century after the Empress of Blues’ rise to fame, Dee Rees’ made-for-TV biopic brought her journey to the screen. Queen Latifah plays the hell out of Smith, a fiery force backed by indisputable talent, and Mo’Nique (as mentor/frenemy Ma Rainey), Tika Sumpter (as lover Lucille), and Michael K. Williams (as husband/manager Jack) offer supporting performances that make the Emmy-winning film that much more deserving of attention. Bessie bares the barrier-breaking moments that elevated a tough, queer woman of color to stardom, and the tense situations that nearly brought her down.
Where to watch: HBO Max, HBO GO, Hulu, Amazon Prime

"The Birdcage"
"The Birdcage" | Courtesy of United Artists

The Birdcage (1996)

Longtime partners Armand and Albert Goldman (Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) have built a fabulous life for themselves in South Beach, Florida. Armand owns The Birdcage, a popular drag club, and Albert -- more famously known as the drag queen Starina -- is the club’s biggest talent. Things get tricky when Armand’s grown son, Val (Dan Futterman), hastily proposes to the daughter of a prominent Republican senator (Gene Hackman). The families plan a dinner in South Beach to get acquainted, but there’s a catch -- Val wants Armand to hide Albert away and pretend to be straight for the night. What could go wrong? The Birdcage reimagines the 1978 French comedy La Cage aux Folles and features additional performances by Christine Baranski and Dianne Wiest to tell a hilariously cringey tale of two polar-opposite families digging deep to find shared values.
Where to watch: HuluYouTube, Vudu; rent on Amazon Prime

"Bonding"
"Bonding" | Courtesy of Netflix

Bonding (2019- )

Newly out Pete (Brendan Scannell) dreams of taking New York City’s comedy scene by storm. Dreams and reality are very different, though; Pete’s never actually performed in front of an audience and his job as a waiter can’t foot the bills alone. When he reconnects with his old BFF Tiff (Zoe Levin), a grad student by day and dominatrix by night, he’s offered a solution to his money problems -- working as her assistant/bodyguard during her evening rendezvous. At first Pete’s squeamish at the thought of BDSM, but over time he’s able to find his own sexual liberation and confidence by exploring the kink community. Tiff and Pete -- otherwise known as Mistress May and Master Carter -- are the dead-faced antiheroes and model archetypes of the struggling millennial New Yorker.
Where to watchNetflix

"But I'm a Cheerleader"
"But I'm a Cheerleader" | Courtesy of Lionsgate Films

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

Natasha Lyonne, honorary queer of Orange Is the New Black and Russian Doll fame, cemented her place in lesbian canon more than two decades ago. Lyonne stars as Megan, a teen cheerleader with an athlete boyfriend who she doesn't like kissing too much. When Megan’s parents suspect her of being lesbian -- which comes as news to her -- they ship her off to a no-nonsense conversion camp to set her straight. Under the leadership of disciplinarians Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty) and “formerly gay” Mike (RuPaul), campers undergo a five-step program to "correct" their gender expression and "cure" their homosexuality. Throughout her stay, Megan grows dangerously close to rebellious camper Graham (Clea DuVall), challenging everything she thought she knew about love and sexuality. Years later, But I’m a Cheerleader holds up as the campy conversion therapy comedy that nobody asked for and everybody enjoyed.
Where to watch: Criterion ChannelTubi, Vudu; rent on Amazon Prime

"Carol"
"Carol" | Courtesy of StudioCanal

Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes’ story about lesbian love in the 1950s is a gorgeous film from start to finish, from the direction (every frame is as lush as a painting) to the awards-worthy performances (Rooney Mara as the gawky, vulnerable Therese and Cate Blanchett as the alluring, perfectly coiffed Carol). Carol is one of the most tender cinematic depictions ever of what it feels like to be in love -- how the quality of light changes, how time slows, how every fleeting gesture takes on the deliberateness of sign language -- and why two people would be willing to go against everything society expects of them in order to hold on to it. The film, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, garnered both of its lead actresses Oscar nominations, among a handful of other awards, and their chemistry will have you feeling as if you’re just as wrapped up in their tumultuous relationship, too.
Where to watchKanopy; rent on Amazon Prime, Vudu

"Circus of Books"
"Circus of Books" | Courtesy of Netflix

Circus of Books (2020)

When it comes to work-life balance, Karen and Barry Mason know best. For decades, the unassuming Orthodox Jewish couple quietly ran a gay bookstore and porn shop in Southern California, taking a front-row seat to the AIDS crisis and finding a soft spot for a community that once seemed foreign -- all while raising three children who had no idea about their day job. In Circus of Books, their now-grown daughter, Rachel (who has since been clued in on the family business), documents the real story of Karen and Barry’s relationship, their secret business, and how working in a queer industry would help them come to terms with their own son’s sexuality down the road.
Where to watchNetflix

"The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"
"The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" | Courtesy of Netflix

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

When Marsha P. Johnson, the transgender activist hailed as the “Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement,” was found dead in the Hudson River in 1992, authorities ruled it a suicide despite a number of suspicious details. Twenty-five years later, many people still believe she was murdered, and in The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, trans activist Victoria Cruz sets out to get some answers. Through her interviews with Johnson’s friends and family, plus archival footage of Johnson and fellow leaders like Sylvia Rivera, viewers are able to piece together the monumental life she lived -- and make judgments about her untimely death. In an age where trans people of color still live in fear of being targeted, the documentary feels all-too apt and important.
Where to watchNetflix

"Disclosure"
"Disclosure" | Ava Benjamin Shorr/Netflix

Disclosure (2020)

Most Americans say they don’t personally know a trans person. That means the media is largely responsible for shaping society’s understanding of the trans community, and for the most part, films and TV shows haven’t done an adequate job. Disclosure analyzes the history of trans representation in media and how those characters stack up to the lived experiences of actual trans people. Directed by Sam Feder, executive produced by Laverne Cox, and featuring in-depth interviews from trans filmmakers, actors, and activists like Candis Cayne, Chaz Bono, Mj Rodriguez, and Jamie Clayton, Disclosure shows that media may have come a long way with increasing trans representation, but there’s still plenty of work left to be done to demystify, deradicalize, and diversify trans portrayals. 
Where to watchNetflix

"Feel Good"
"Feel Good" | Courtesy of Netflix

Feel Good (2020)

Inspired by real experiences in comic Mae Martin’s life, Feel Good follows the turbulent relationship of Mae, an obsessive comedian who struggles with drug addiction, and George (Charlotte Ritchie), a charming school teacher who’s never dated a girl before. The British dramedy hits every emotion in a way that doesn’t always feel good, but does always feel human. George struggles with her friends’ microaggressions, Mae butts heads with her cruel mother (Lisa Kudrow), and the pressure of keeping George interested puts Mae’s sobriety to the test. Feel Good exposes the confusing jumble of euphoria and suffering that characterizes many queer relationships, using impeccable comedic timing and wit to soften the blow. 
Where to watchNetflix

Holding the Man
"Holding the Man" | Courtesy of Screen Australia

Holding the Man (2015)

Based on Timothy Conigrave’s 1995 memoir, Australian film Holding the Man pieces together the 15-year romance of Tim (Ryan Corr) and his longtime partner, John (Craig Scott), as they grow up together, navigate parental damnation, and confront their HIV diagnoses. Through the highs and lows of their relationship -- distance, infidelity, arguments, and guilt -- there’s always a tenderness beneath the surface of their interactions. Equal parts heartwarming and heartwrenching, Holding the Man strikes a sensitive chord and proves that some love is worth fighting for.
Where to watchNetflix

"How to Survive a Plague"
"How to Survive a Plague" | Courtesy of IFC Films

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

A history of the AIDS epidemic through the mid-1990s is obviously one of the most gut-wrenching films of all time, but this Oscar-nominated documentary elicits as many tears of joy as tears of heartbreak because it chronicles a story of hope, determination, and ultimate victory. Comprised mostly of footage shot during the early years of the crisis, much of it by camerapeople who didn't live to see the film, the quest of organizations ACT UP and TAG to find better treatment for HIV and AIDS is experienced up close and personal through director David France's archival-vérité approach.
Where to watchAmazon Prime

"I Am Jonas"
"I Am Jonas" | Courtesy of Arte

I Am Jonas (2018)

When a traumatic experience yanks his first gay lover away, quiet teen Jonas gives up on happiness. Eighteen years later he’s still reeling from the loss, looking for comfort in club nights and casual encounters, until a chance meeting forces him to confront the past and find closure. I Am Jonas straddles two timelines, showcasing the charm of Nicolas Bauwens and Félix Maritaud as young and grown Jonas. Originally released in France, it’s a coming-of-age picture that tackles grief and self-forgiveness in a way that few films dare to attempt, and fewer manage to accomplish.
Where to watchNetflix

"La Casa de las Flores"
"La Casa de las Flores" | Courtesy of Netflix

La Casa de las Flores (2018-2020)

Does drama follow the de la Moras, or do the de la Moras breed drama? Either way, their lives are dramatic. The upper-class family owns a flower shop and a cabaret, both named La Casa de las Flores (The House of Flowers), and when they’re not busy fighting over how to run the businesses, they’re busy covering up scandals to keep the de la Mora name untarnished. La Casa de las Flores helped popularize the millennial telenovela genre by incorporating LGBTQ+ characters and progressive values into the typical soap opera style. The dark dramedy challenges traditional Mexican morality and shuts down queerphobic viewpoints in a satirical and digestible way, and soapy as it may be, it’s hard to stop watching.
Where to watchNetflix

"London Spy"
"London Spy" | Courtesy of BBC/WTTV Limited

London Spy (2015)

A gay British crime drama starring the winsome Ben Whishaw? Tom Rob Smith knows how to please. Danny Holt (Whishaw) thinks he’s finally found the one, only for his new lover, Alex (Edward Holcroft), to wind up dead a short time later. Danny learns that the man he fell for was an illusion, an identity manufactured to mask his true life as an MI6 spy. Hurt, confused, emboldened, and still in love, Danny dives into the world of espionage in order to get some answers. London Spy adds a needed slow-burn thriller to the queer television arsenal -- one that can be watched from tame start to hair-raising finish in under five hours.
Where to watchNetflix

"Moonlight"
"Moonlight" | Courtesy of A24

Moonlight (2016)

Chronicling the boyhood years, teenage stretch, and muted adult life of Chiron, a black gay man making it in Miami, this triptych altarpiece is at once hyper-specific and cosmically universal. Director Barry Jenkins roots each moment in the last; Chiron's desire for a lost lover can't burn in a diner booth over a bottle of wine without his beachside identity crisis years prior, blurred and violent, or encounters from deeper in his past, when glimpses of his mother's drug addiction, or the mentoring acts of her crack supplier, felt like secrets delivered in code. Panging colors, sounds, and the delicate movements of its perfect cast like the notes of a symphony, Moonlight is the real deal, a Best Picture-winning movie that will only grow and complicate as you wrestle with it.
Where to watchNetflix

pariah (2011)
"Pariah" | Courtesy of Focus Features

Pariah (2011)

Writer-director Dee Rees’ first feature film grapples with identity and belonging through a soul-stirring coming-of-age story set in Brooklyn, New York. Gifted 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) starts embracing her sexuality with the help of her friend Laura (Pernell Walker) and at the contempt of her mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans). Between the film’s title, which means “outcast,” and an opening quote by Audre Lorde -- “Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs” -- Rees offers a window into Alike’s conflicted mind. She feels alone, and she wants that to change. Alike’s private warfare samples from Rees’ own personal experiences, and Oduye’s tender embodiment of Alike elevated Pariah to its award-winning status praised by both GLAAD and NAACP.
Where to watch: Sundance Now; rent on Amazon Prime

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire"
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" | Courtesy of Pyramide Films

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire opens with the simple image of a hand drawing charcoal lines across a blank piece of paper. That's how an artist begins her work: sketching out the outline and making preliminary judgments about what goes where. We soon learn the hand belongs to Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a French painter in the 18th century who falls in love with the young woman (Adèle Haenel) assigned to her as a subject. (In the early stages of the relationship, Marianne must keep her profession hidden on long walks with her object of obsession, giving the narrative an almost spy-movie like touch.) The fastidiousness of the early scenes helps establish the precise, exacting style of director Céline Sciamma, who tends to favor uncluttered compositions filled with lots of blank space, deliberate movements, and dramatic splashes of color. As the story builds to its inevitably tragic and bittersweet finale, the movie strikes a powerful emotional chord through an unflinching final scene. And yes, the flame-kissed title is very literal. 
Where to watchHulu

"Pose"
"Pose" | Courtesy of FX Network

Pose (2018- )

With Paris Is Burning, the revolutionary 1990 documentary that peered into NYC’s drag ball culture, no longer on Netflix, Pose takes center stage as its worthwhile if not dramatized counterpart. Focusing on the queer ball communities as well as the upper-crust businessmen of New York in the 1980s, Pose was destined to be an important show from its debut, especially considering it features the largest regular cast of trans actors ever on TV. But the show from Ryan Murphy proved to be even more fabulous than anyone anticipated, thanks to nuanced storylines and incredible performances from talent like Janet Mock, Indya Moore, and Mj Rodriguez. It's an ode to an overlooked community, keying in on the fictional House of Evangelista, but Pose is also a testament to resilience and one of the most joyful viewing experiences in recent TV memory. 
Where to watchNetflix; rent on Amazon Prime

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
"Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood" | Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017)

Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood turned heads when it dropped on Netflix this spring, painting a captivating but exaggerated portrait of Hollywood after WWII -- and the shady encounters that happened behind closed doors. Some of Murphy’s characters are pure fiction, but Ernie West (Dylan McDermott), the hunky pimp who conducted business out of a gas station, was based on the real-life Scotty Bowers. Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood chronicles Bowers’ decades of sex work in an equally intriguing and much closer-to-the-truth manner. Interviews with people, like actor Stephen Fry, former film executive Peter Bart, and Bowers himself before his death, shed light on the high demand for gay escorts particularly in a time that required discretion.
Where to watchStarz; rent on Amazon Prime

"Sex Education"
"Sex Education" | Sam Taylor

Sex Education (2019- )

This British Netflix original centers around Otis (Asa Butterfield), an awkward teen who finds himself an unwitting sex therapist to his peers, thanks to the knowledge gleaned from being the son of an actual sex therapist, Jean (Gillian Anderson). He and his crush form a side hustle at their school that turns out to have a lot more clients -- and bumps in the road -- than they expected. As the high school student body struggles to navigate the traumas of young love, a number of queer scenarios rise to the surface. Otis’ best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), lights up the screen as an ebullient gay man on the quest for companionship and acceptance from his family, and an entire story arc on anal douching in Season 2 teaches viewers more about gay sex than any high school health course could ever dream. It's funny, yet also takes its subject matter seriously, and plays like a sex-positive manifesto for teenagers everywhere. 
Where to watch: Netflix

"She-Ra and the Princesses of Power"
"She-Ra and the Princesses of Power" | Courtesy of Netflix

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018-2020)

Reimagining the ‘80s series She-Ra: Princess of Power with fewer gender stereotypes and more diverse characters, this adventure cartoon brings queer representation to a level that’s not often explored in family-friendly television. When teenage warrior Adora stumbles upon a magical sword, she gains the power to embody She-Ra, a princess tasked with defeating a malicious army intent on taking over the planet. Not only does the heroine herself rank on the Kinsey Scale, but several supporting characters help amplify the narrative that sexuality and gender are fluid, and there’s no right way to express yourself. Whether platonic, romantic, or familial, the relationships in She-Ra pack a ton of nuance, carefulness, and empathy.
Where to watch: Netflix

"Special"
"Special" | Courtesy of Netflix

Special (2019- )

Ryan O’Connell writes, produces, and stars in Special, a short-form, semi-autobiographical series about a gay man with cerebral palsy ready to build a life for himself outside of his mother’s home. As he enters the workforce, considers dating, and finds a new place to live, Ryan gets a taste of independence, and all the challenges that come with. With support from his new friend Kim (Punam Patel), he makes it work, even if that means pushing his overprotective mom, Karen (Jessica Hecht), to the background. The concise first season leaves plenty of storyline to be written, but the little content online tells a bewitching tale of self-acceptance and bravery rarely seen on-screen.
Where to watchNetflix

"Steven Universe"
"Steven Universe" | Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

Steven Universe (2013-2019)

We’ve finally reached a time when multiple cartoons feature prominent LGBTQ+ themes, for which you can thank Steven Universe for wholly championing. The Cartoon Network series centers around Steven and the Crystal Gems, a group of guardians that fight off interstellar evil to protect the planet. The titular character and half-gem is the youngest in the group, surrounded by female protagonists and role models. A handful of the show’s characters are queer -- gay, lesbian, pansexual, asexual, and nonbinary people are all represented through the rolodex of Gems and their fusions -- and showrunner Rebecca Sugar confronts their sexualities and genders head-on, not through obscurities and metaphor. There’s a lesbian wedding, gender-neutral pronouns, and an intentional dismissal of gender stereotypes throughout. Steven Universe is technically geared toward young audiences, but plenty enjoyable for cartoon-lovers of all ages.
Where to watch: Hulu, HBO Max

"Tangerine"
"Tangerine" | Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine's natural hook: Sean Baker shot the 2015 film on an iPhone, before anyone was shooting movies on Apple products. But it's the portraits Baker captured through that lens are what make his film meaningful. Baker began picturing the story of two trans sex workers on a Christmas Eve odyssey across America when he met star Mya Taylor at an LGBTQ center in West Hollywood, where he said "her aura" made him realize he had to speak to her. In pairing Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Baker found a story of friendship shaped by extreme circumstances brought on by marginalization, doing so without leaning into exploitation, even as the plot veers into raucous directions every bit as thrilling as big-budget action set-pieces. Merry Christmas, bitch, indeed.
Where to watchHulu

"We're Here"
"We're Here" | Courtesy of HBO

We're Here (2020- )

Remember Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar? Take that plot, sign on actually queer talent, tweak it for reality TV, and you’ve got We’re Here. HBO’s new show follows three Drag Race alums (Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley) on their mission to nurture queer leaders throughout small-town America. In each episode, the queens spend a week in a different conservative community, where they adopt a few locals as their "drag children" and prepare them for a one-night-only drag show. At a glance, We're Here is a queer-led makeover show a la Netflix's Queer Eye -- an established queen takes a shy townsperson and puts them in drag for the first time to help them find their confidence -- but makeup, wigs, and learning to walk in heels are far from the point. The drag transformation is simply a means to an end, with the end being a newly empowered queer community in every town that they visit.
Where to watch: HBO Max, HBO GO

"Wig"
"Wig" | Courtesy of HBO

Wig (2019)

Lady Bunny’s legendary drag festival, Wigstock, entertained the gay community every summer from 1984 till 2001, featuring top talent of the time and giving NYC queers a space to connect and express themselves. In 2018, Lady Bunny resurrected the iconic event to bridge the gap between her generation of drag and the modern drag community. Wig targets a younger audience in need of a history lesson; it reminisces on the “glory days” of drag -- when Lady Bunny and RuPaul ruled the town and the Pyramid Club was the hottest place to be -- and follows the journey to bring Wigstock back, including footage from the 2018 event itself, which was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and featured drag stars new and old. 
Where to watchHBO Max, HBO GO

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Kyler Alvord writes stuff about things for Thrillist. Find him on Twitter and Instagram. Or don't. It's really up to you.