20 queer classics to watch while 'social distancing'

Stuck inside for a while? Check out these streaming LGBTQ classic films and binge-worthy shows.
Image: "Orange is the New Black," "Pose" and "Moonlight."
"Orange is the New Black," "Pose" and "Moonlight."Netflix; A24
By Liam Knox and Brooke Sopelsa

From critically acclaimed shows like "Pose" and "Queer as Folk," to must-watch films including lesbian classic "Desert Hearts" and iconic documentary "Paris Is Burning," here's a selection of queer content to stream while "social distancing" amid the coronavirus pandemic.


“Pose” (2018- )

Ryan Murphy is responsible for some of the most beloved queer television of the decade, including “Glee” and the delightfully campy “Scream Queens.” With “Pose,” a series about a chosen family of trans women navigating New York City’s ballroom culture in the 1980s and ‘90s, Murphy explores the terrifying social stigma trans women faced and continue to face, and the fierce loyalty and friendship that blossoms from that shared experience.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Moonlight” (2016)

“Moonlight” made history in February 2017 by becoming the first LGBTQ film to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s script “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” the film is a largely autobiographical story of a black, gay man coming of age while struggling with his sexual identity.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Sense8” (2015-2018)

Created by the Wachowski sisters, writers and directors of “The Matrix” trilogy, this science-fiction drama series follows eight strangers who discover they are emotionally and mentally linked, but must contend with shadowy forces that appear bent on hunting them down for their unique abilities. Due in part to its representation of LGBTQ characters and themes, the show won the 2016 GLAAD award for Outstanding Drama Series.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Tangerine” (2015)

It’s Christmas eve in Tinseltown, and Sin-Dee and Alexandra, two transgender sex workers just scraping by, are on a mission: to find Sin-Dee’s pimp (and boyfriend) and confront him about his alleged infidelity. The film is a raucous, hilarious and poignant story all miraculously shot on an iPhone.

Where to watch: Hulu


“Transparent” (2014-2019)

This Golden Globe-winning series focuses on a dysfunctional family in Los Angeles — particularly its patriarch-turned-matriarch, Maura Pfefferman, who comes out as transgender later in life. However, it turns out Maura, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is not the only Pfefferman who makes life-altering changes during the course of the series.

Where to watch: Prime Video


“Orange is the New Black” (2013-2019)

Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, this hit Netflix series tells the story of a comfortably rich white woman with a clean-cut boyfriend who finds herself serving over a year in a women’s prison for a drug-trafficking crime she committed years earlier for her then-girlfriend. The binge-worthy series, starring Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Laverne Cox, is chock-full of critically acclaimed performances.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Blue Is the Warmest Color” (2013)

“Blue Is The Warmest Color” is a story about an epic, life-changing relationship between two women who discover they are each others’ greatest loves. Critically admired for its intensity and sense of cinematic intimacy, the French film is sure to go down as an LGBTQ classic.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Glee” (2009-2015)

When “Glee” came on the scene in 2009, the full extent of its contributions to LGBTQ representation in television couldn’t have been anticipated. But throughout its six seasons, it never shied away from showing a wide spectrum of human sexuality through the prism of a high school glee club riddled with drama, competition, young love and a penchant for impromptu musical numbers.

Where to watch: Netflix


“The L Word” (2004-2009)

Starring Jennifer Beals, this Showtime drama about a group of lesbian friends living in Los Angeles broke barriers when it debuted over 15 years ago. Last year, over a decade after the original show left the air, Showtime launched “The L Word: Generation Q,” which includes several of the original cast members a new generation of queer L.A. women and trans men.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)

This cult-classic, which was turned into a Broadway show, follows the rock-and-roll career of a German trans woman who finds her relationship with a young lover and mentee turn bitter after he steals her music and skyrockets to a mainstream fame that she, as a trans woman, could never dream of. A funny and cathartic film, you’ll have to watch it yourself to find out why it still enjoys a hardcore fanbase almost 20 years after its release.

Where to watch: HBO Go


“Queer as Folk” (2000-2005)

Based on the British show of the same name, this drama was the first on American television to center on the lives of LGBTQ people. It chronicles the lives of five gay men and a lesbian couple living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and through their stories explores some of the most relevant queer issues of its time.

Where to watch: Showtime Anytime


“But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999)

Director Jamie Babbit was reportedly influenced to write “But I’m a Cheerleader” — a satirical film that takes place largely at a “reparative therapy camp” — after her own personal experience with conversion therapy as an adolescent. This experience informs a funny and heartwarming story about a cheerleader, played by Natasha Lyonne, who enters the camp confused about her sexuality — and leaves with newfound clarity.

Where to watch: Prime Video


“Boys Don’t Cry” (1999)

Based on the tragic true story of trans man Brandon Teena, “Boys Don’t Cry” stars Hilary Swank as Teena, a young man navigating his gender transition, and Chloe Sevigny as his love interest. Swank won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Teena, who had just turned 21 at the time of his rape and murder in Nebraska. This classic film is widely recognized as a cultural milestone for trans men in film.

Where to watch: HBO Go


“Will & Grace” (1998-2006)

“Will & Grace” is about as classic as American television gets. A sitcom about a gay lawyer and his interior-designing best female friend turned out to be one of the most significant milestones in LGBTQ representation in media. In 2017, NBC revived it for another three seasons.

Where to watch: Hulu


“Chasing Amy” (1997)

In this Kevin Smith-directed dramedy starring Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams, a comic book writer thinks he’s met the love of his life...only to discover that she’s a lesbian. What follows is a story about the ways love and friendship can develop side-by-side, and how who you love is not as important as how you love them.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Birdcage” (1996)

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane star in this comedy about acceptance, family and the ties that bind us. Williams, who plays the owner of a Miami drag club called “The Birdcage,” is set to meet his son’s in-laws, but there’s a catch: He must pretend to be straight. The film is both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving, and it remains a must-watch queer classic nearly 25 years after its release.

Where to watch: Prime Video


“Philadelphia” (1993)

Tom Hanks won an Academy Award for his portrayal of an aggrieved lawyer seeking restitution from his old firm, which fired him after learning he had AIDS. The film shed light on the social and economic consequences of the public health crisis, and it even paid homage to those who fought against AIDS-related discrimination by featuring 50 extras who were once clients of the pioneering health clinic ActionAIDS.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Paris Is Burning” (1990)

This classic documentary chronicles the New York City ballroom scene of the 1980s, and the “house” culture that, for many of the drag queens featured in the film, provided a sense of home, community and support at a time when hostility to drag and LGBTQ people had reached a fever pitch. It’s a moving snapshot of a moment in queer history, and a must-watch for any film buff.

Where to watch: Netflix


“Desert Hearts” (1985)

This romantic drama based on legendary lesbian novelist Jane Rule’s 1964 book “Desert of the Heart,” tells the story of a bored university professor in the throes of divorce who finds her life — and her romantic interests — revitalized when she meets a confident and liberated younger woman.

Where to watch: Showtime Anytime


“The Queen” (1968)

Before there was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Paris Is Burning,” there was “The Queen.” The decades-old documentary shines a light on New York City drag queens navigating the burgeoning world of “camp” contests. Directed by Frank Simon and narrated by drag icon Flawless Sabrina, “The Queen” chronicles the competition for the crown in the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant.

Where to watch: Netflix

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