The 25 Greatest Gay Documentaries

Looking for a must-see list of great gay documentaries? We've got you covered. We recently asked our readers to nominate up to five of their favorite documentary films via write-in vote. Thousands responded and we tabulated the results to bring you the top 25 here. All of these films are definitely worth a look and to help you learn more about titles you might not be familiar with, we've included trailers, links to reviews, official film websites and more. Plus, for three of the titles we've even embedded the full movie thanks to the Logo Docs library.

So here they are, the 25 Greatest Gay Documentaries. Which ones have you already seen? Which ones do you need to see?

25. Saint of 9/11

Summary: Sir Ian McKellen narrates this inspiring portrait of Father Mychal Judge, a New York City Fire Department Chaplain who wrestled with his sexuality, his genuine dedication to life as a priest, and his alcoholism before perishing during the collapse of the Twin Towers in the line of duty.

Further Reading:

Official Saint of 9/11 website

AfterElton Review of Saint of 9/11

24. Transgeneration

Summary: This GLAAD Award-winning documentary miniseries follows four college students undergoing gender transition. The series places special emphasis on the diversity of the transgender community.

Further Reading:

AfterElton Review of Transgeneration

LogoTV's Transgeneration page

23. How To Survive A Plague

Summary: A stunning portrait of the emergence of ACT UP in the early days of the AIDS crisis, Plague documents the lengths to which its activists would go to demand government action in regards to the testing of AIDS medications. Its impressive use of footage from the trenches makes this an essential chronicle of a painful yet pivotal time in gay rights history.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's interview with How to Survive a Plague director David France

How to Survive a Plague Official Website

22. Silverlake Life: The View From Here

Summary: The winner of the Sundance Grand Jury prize for documentary as well as a Peabody Award, Peter Friedman and Tom Joslin’s extremely moving and deeply personal chronicle of the life of a gay couple supporting one another in the advanced stages of AIDS is often cited as one of the most heartbreaking movies of all time. This film puts a human face to the AIDS crisis in a way that no other movie has.

Further Reading:

One of AfterElton's "20 Most Groundbreaking Films."

Silverlake Life on

21. The Adonis Factor

Summary: This long, hard look into the masculine physical ideal that many gay men pursue piles on the chiseled bodies and probes topics including plastic surgery, steroids, the gay porn industry, circuit parties, and the pros and cons of living one’s life as eye candy.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's Review of The Adonis Factor

The Adonis Factor Official Website

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20. Bear Nation

Summary: Hirsute heavyweights are the subject of this documentary by Small Town Gay Bar director Malcolm Ingram (and returning producer Kevin Smith), which dives beard-first into the gay subculture that celebrates men who are bigger and furrier than your average Abercrombie model.

Further Reading:

Bear Nation Official Website

Bear Nation on

19. Trembling Before G-d

Summary: A revealing look at gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who struggle to reconcile their sexual identities with their devout faith. Filmmaker Sandi Dubowski returned to the intersection of faith and sexuality for his 2007 film A Jihad for Love.

Further Reading:

Trembling Before G-D Official Website

18. All Aboard Rosie's Family Cruise

Summary: R Family Vacations – the gay family cruise line started by Rosie O’Donnell and her ex Kelli – had its 2004 maiden voyage documented for this lighthearted and touching portrait of some very modern families unwinding en route to the Bahamas.

Further Reading:

The Rainbow Babies' All Aboard Rosie's Family Cruise review

17. Stonewall Uprising

Summary: This 2010 documentary about the formative event of the gay liberation movement notably uses archive newscasts and “special reports” on homosexuality to demonstrate how gays and lesbians were viewed and treated by the media prior to the historic 1969 rebellion in Greenwich Village.

Further Reading:

First Run Features' Stonewall Uprising page

AfterElton's review of Stonewall Uprising

16. Word Is Out

Summary: Acclaimed director and producer Rob Epstein (who was behind a number of the films on this list) began his impressive career by co-directing this 1977 film (the earliest entry on this list) that features over two dozen gay men and lesbian women speaking directly to the camera about their lives. Simple, yet groundbreaking for its time.

Further Reading:

Word Is Out official website

NPR's Word Is Out: A Love That Dared Speak After All (audio)

15. After Stonewall

Summary: The follow-up to the film, Before Stonewall, this Melissa Etheridge-narrated documentary chronicles the gay rights movement from the Stonewall Rebellion to the present, touching on subjects including Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and the AIDS crisis.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's After Stonewall Review

14. Chris & Don: A Love Story

Summary: The longtime love affair of Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man, The Berlin Stories) and portrait artist Don Bachardy is the subject of this 2007 film, which explores an openly-lived Hollywood gay romance in a time when such a thing was unheard of.

Further Reading:

Zeitgeist Film's Chris & Don: A Love Story

The Christopher Isherwood Foundation

13. Gay Sex In The 70's

Summary: Focusing its steamed-up lens on the period between when the Stonewall Rebellion liberated New York City’s gay community and AIDS brought it to its knees, Joseph F. Lovett’s gleefully hedonistic doc is a fascinating look at a sexual revolution unlike any other. Mustaches, machismo, and muscles abound.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's 2005 Review of Gay Sex in the 70's

AfterElton's interview with Gay Sex in the 70's director Joseph Lovett

12. 8: The Mormon Proposition

Summary: Dustin Lance Black narrates this 2010 film by Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet that exposes the Mormon Church’s involvement (via The National Organization for Marriage) in in the obstruction of same-sex marriage legislation across the country, including the highly publicized Proposition 8 in California.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's Review of 8: The Mormon Proposition

11. Small Town Gay Bar

Summary: Filmmaker Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Red State) produced this documentary by Malcolm Ingram exploring the culture of gay bars in the rural American South. The film chronicles the gay communities struggling for acceptance in the shadow of overwhelmingly conservative landscapes, and the refuge that their gay bars provide. (They also have a heck of a good time.)

Further Reading:

AfterElton's review of Small Town Gay Bar

10. Vito

Summary: Jeffrey Schwarz (Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon and the upcoming I am Divine) directed this acclaimed chronicle of the life and work of Vito Russo, a figurehead of the gay rights movement and the author of The Celluloid Closet, a seminal work on gay representation in the media. An endearing portrait of the onetime film student who emerged from the Stonewall Rebellion as one of the most outspoken activists for gay rights and visibility.

Further Reading:

Vito Official Website

9. Outrage

Summary: Straight documentary provocateur Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) turns his lens on the destructive hypocrisies of closeted gay politicians who lobby for anti-gay legislation in the United States in this 2009 film.

Further Reading:

Outrage Official Website

AfterElton's review of Outrage

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8. Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt

Summary: Winner of the 1989 Oscar for Best Documentary, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s chronicle of The Names Project tells its broader story by focusing on the lives of several of the people commemorated in the massive quilt, which honors those lost to AIDS.

Further Reading:

Logo's Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt page

7. We Were Here

Summary: This 2011 film explores the arrival of AIDS in San Francisco and how the city (and especially its strong and outspoken gay community) dealt with the crushing blow to life and culture at a time when the gay community was just beginning to find its voice.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's Review of We Were Here

We Were Here Official Website

6. Paragraph 175

Summary: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman co-directed this 2000 film chronicling the lives of the handful of known survivors of Germany’s Paragraph 175, the sodomy provision of the penal code that led to over 100,000 men being arrested and imprisoned or sent to concentration camps between 1933 and 1945. Rupert Everett narrates this harrowing and essential look at one of the darkest times in history for gays and lesbians.

Further Reading:

Telling Pictures' Paragraph 175 page

Eleven Gay Historical Figures Worthy of the "Milk" Treatment

5. Before Stonewall

Summary: Noted lesbian author Rita Mae Brown (The Rubyfruit Jungle) narrates this exploration of the burgeoning gay and lesbian community prior to the revolutionary Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. A fascinating look at the way that the underground gay community operated prior to the landmark uprising.

Further Reading:

Before Stonewall press site

4. For The Bible Tells Me So

Summary: Daniel Karslake’s moving study of gay people of faith explores the interplay of religion and sexual identity through the stories of five Christian families with gay members. The film also details the ways in which some groups have used Biblical interpretations – sometimes questionable ones – to stigmatize and marginalize gay people, and makes a plea for greater understanding.

Further Reading:

AfterElton's Review of For the Bible Tells Me So

AfterElton's interview with For The Bible Tells Me So director Daniel Karslake

3. Paris Is Burning

Summary: Jennie Livingston’s boundary-smashing glimpse into the “drag ball” scene shines the light on some of the queer community’s most underrepresented - yet most fabulous - members: gay and transgender men of color who stage and compete in elaborate cross-dressing pageants. According to our voters, Paris gets 10’s across the board.

Further Reading:

Best Movie Ever?: Paris is Burning

2. The Times of Harvey Milk

Summary: Decades before Sean Penn earned an Oscar for playing him, Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning 1984 documentary honored the life of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official. Using both archival footage and original interviews, the film chronicles Milk’s rise from a Castro Street activist to his assassination at the hands of rival politician Dan White.

Further Reading:

Criterion Collection: The Times of Harvey Milk

"Harvey's Enduring Legacy" by Stuart Milk

Roger Ebert's Review of The Times of Harvey Milk

1. The Celluloid Closet

Summary: Based on gay activist and media critic Vito Russo’s groundbreaking book, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Peabody Award-winning documentary examines homosexuality in American film from the classics of Old Hollywood to New Queer Cinema, as well as the struggles of gay and lesbian filmmakers and stars. Choice clips from touchstone films and interviews with Hollywood allies like Susan Sarandon and Whoopi Goldberg make Closet an informative and wonderfully entertaining landmark in the study of gay visibility in entertainment.

Further Reading:

Top Documentary Films: The Celluloid Closet

Roger Ebert's review of The Celluloid Closet

What did you think of our 25 Greatest Gay Documentaries list? Any glaring omissions? Let us know in the comments.

If you're a big fan of documentary films you might also want to check out Logo Docs, LogoTV's online documentary collection. And starting in October the Logo Network is launching a new series called “WHAT!? Logo Documentaries.”. WHAT!? kicks off with the world premiere of Loving Large on Tuesday, October 2nd at 10 PM ET/PT.

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