A-List: Top Five LGBT Films

By J. Don Birnam

June 29, 2015

That thing in her hands is a polaroid. It's like a picture you take on your iPhone but on paper.

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The Supreme Court’s historic decision to recognize a constitutional right to marriage equality will resonate as one of the landmark moments in American history. But the ruling did not come out of nowhere, nor does it exist in a vacuum. Many people fought to make the outcome possible, and one can in seriousness look to cultural drivers such as television and movies that helped turned the tide of history.

It is no exaggeration, in my view, to say that TV shows like Will & Grace and movies like Brokeback Mountain helped to move the needle in this area. Like with other civil rights fights in our history, seeing the faces and lives of the men and women affected by certain discriminatory practices tends to change people’s views. Americans are, undoubtedly in my view, an inherently tolerant people. We believe strongly in concepts of liberty and equality - they are, after all, in our cornerstone documents. Sometimes times can blind. But the opening of people’s eyes occurs and it comes from all over - from the ballot box, to the town square, to the movie hall.

I have always enjoyed movies because of that prescient role at the center of the American cultural ethos - one we export to other nations and which we use to understand ourselves better. What can be more American, for example, and for better or for worse, than Gone With the Wind? Or The Godfather? That is us. That is our culture in artistic form.

So, today, I look back on some of the films that have touched on topics relevant to LGBT individuals.


The criteria for this one was challenging as it is not always clear what is necessarily an LGBT-themed movie. Is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a gay-themed movie? It seems clear to me that the Paul Newman character had a romantic infatuation with his dead male friend and had no sexual interest in the stunning Elizabeth Taylor. But the heinous Production Code in the 1950s impeded the filmmakers from making explicit what is implicit in the Tennessee Williams play, and in the end the characters are implied to have (straight) sex.

And another challenge: are movies that are favorites of the LGBT community in the mix? Steel Magnolias, Chicago and Mean Girls come to mind, but they don’t really touch on any explicit gay theme, unless you consider sass and strong female emotions to count. So, reluctantly, I will keep those out for now.

I’m also going to keep out some of my favorite LGBT movies of all time that I have listed in other columns, if only to make my life easier - so Weekend, Brokeback, and Philadelphia are out. Still, I am left to list a lot of honorable mentions, because there are many great movies that also helped move the needle in the right direction. For example, the movie Transamerica, with a stunning performance by Felicity Huffman and a moving song by gay-icon Dolly Parton, brought awareness to the lesser known letter of the LGBT acronym - transgendered men and women. Indeed, as the next frontier in the civil rights battle develops, I expect this movie to gain growing significance.

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