It’s been half a century since the Stonewall Riots, the watershed catalyst for the gay rights movement, and we’re finally starting to see more LGBTQIA+ stories becoming popular. But the film industry still has a long way to go in terms of making these stories universal and ubiquitous, because — one more time for the people in the back! — representation is everything.
This Pride Month, Topic is highlighting some of our favorite LGBTQIA+ stories and creators, with a special emphasis on those who have helped pave the way for their community, from rule-shattering nonconformists to activists who are leading the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights around the world. Celebrate Pride Month with us by getting to know these trailblazers.
Though he promised to protect the LGBTQ community, Donald Trump systematically dismantled LGBTQ protections and rights during his administration. Since then, transgender Americans have had to face the consequences on a daily basis, from bathroom discrimination to life-threatening violence. In the docuseries “Trans in Trumpland,” trans filmmaker Tony Zosherafatain visits four red states—North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, and Idaho—to witness the real-life impact that anti-trans laws have on transgender individuals. What he discovers is a community connected through both unimaginable struggle and remarkable strength.
Former Vanderbilt dean K.C. Potter waited until he was almost 50 to come out, scared of experiencing repercussions on his conservative Tennessee campus. Then there’s Jordan, whose father is a pastor struggling to reconcile his religious beliefs with his love for his son. It takes immense courage to come out, but coming out in an environment where you might be one of a very small few takes a whole other level of fortitude. “Show Me the Way” is a tender look at a few of the brave people paving the way for LGBTQIA+ acceptance in more rural communities. But the most memorable message might be that religious faith and tolerance can go hand in hand, and, in fact, they can strengthen each other.
Picture this: A Seattle man is singing about being gay and dismantling the white cis patriarchy...in the ‘70s, and through — wait for it — country music. Hard to imagine, right? The most daring pioneers usually are. This documentary pays overdue tribute to activist Pat Haggerty, who released the first known gay-themed country album in history with his band Lavender Country. Haggerty’s mission was to make it easier for other gay men to come out at a time when tolerance still felt like a far-away dream, but what really set him apart was the unexpected platform he chose: country music. In celebration of LGBTQIA+ Pride, get to know Haggerty, the work he’s done for gay rights, and how his 1973 album, “These C*cksucking Tears,” was rediscovered 40 years later.
Like “Broad City” meets “High Fidelity,” “Anne+” takes you on a fun romp through Amsterdam’s gay dating scene. Recently graduated with her own apartment, Anne seems to be figuring out adulthood just fine. But when she runs into her first girlfriend, Lily, the encounter sends her on a trip down memory lane as she thinks back on all of her ex-girlfriends and lovers during her university years. Her first love, the wild party girl, the unattainable goddess, the one who got away—Anne’s love life has been nothing short of turbulent, but it’s also been instrumental in helping to shape her into the adult she’s becoming.
A drama on the other end of the spectrum from sobering persistent intolerance is “Fort Buchanan.” When his husband is sent to serve in Djibouti, Roger must fend off loneliness and boredom while struggling to connect with their temperamental adopted teenage daughter, Roxy. Luckily, the other army spouses have just the remedy: “adult playdates.” Shot in 16mm film, “Fort Buchanan” is like a dreamy, sensual, idyllic alternate reality where the military is queer-friendly and life at army bases is filled with picnics and, well, orgies.
Here’s a story that keeps on giving. “The Naked Civil Servant” is a drama based on the life of English writer and actor Quentin Crisp, who was openly gay and sought to raise awareness about homosexuality in conservative England. Crisp boldly defied conventionally accepted appearance by dying his hair red, painting his nails, and wearing make-up — this was in the 1930s and ‘40s, when such an appearance was frowned upon for women. When this film came out in 1975, with John Hurt's convincing performance as Crisp, much of the public was outraged and PBS viewers even threatened to pull funding. Today, it seems absurd that Quentin Crisp’s story could be so offensive, but we’ll take that as a positive sign that change is moving in the right direction.
Here’s an eye-opening perspective from across the globe. Pakistani-born actor Mawaan Rizwan visits his birth country to see what being gay is like in a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison or even death. “Is there a gay scene? Is it top secret or can people be open?” he asks. In essence, Rizwan, who is gay himself, wants to know what his life would have been like if he had stayed in Pakistan. To his surprise, he finds a thriving gay community, despite limited freedoms. During his trip, he attends a gay party at a nightclub, goes wedding dress shopping with a transgender woman, who is not afraid to live openly and risk facing persecution every day, and visits a health center that provides STI testing and resources for the LGBTQIA+ community. To get the full picture, Rizwan also discusses homosexuality with an imam, who warns, “If you publicly admit it, then there will be religious fanatics who will be after your life.” Hmmm, kind of sounds familiar... The documentary is not only an important look at the often dangerous LGBTQIA+ experience around the world, but it’s also an uplifting reminder that living your truth trumps fear.
Most of the people who have helped pave the way for tolerance and LGBTQIA+ rights did so by putting themselves on the line. It’s time to thank them. Based on real events, “Against the Law” is part narrative film about journalist Peter Wildeblood and part documentary weaving in real testimonials from elderly gay men who recount living in fear in the ‘50s. In 1954, Wildeblood was arrested and found guilty of “homosexual offenses” after having a beach gathering with a group of men, including his lover at the time. His subsequent trial garnered public attention and greatly contributed to legal reform that decriminalized homosexuality in the UK. While his story is a landmark moment in the history of gay rights, it’s the interviews with real-life men that give Wildeblood’s story gravity and urgency.