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5 great LGBTQ movies & TV shows for teens

Pride Month is upon us, and with it comes a surprising amount of LGBTQ content. From RuPaul’s Drag Race to cultural sensations like Heartstopper and Young Royals to upcoming shows and movies like First KillAnything’s PossibleFire Island, and My Fake Boyfriend, June beings multiple projects to celebrate the LGBTQ community.

Teenagers also have more options than ever, not only from recent offerings, but also films and shows from the early 2000s and even the ’90s. Hopefully, these stories will comfort teens still struggling with their sexuality, letting them know that they aren’t alone. Millions of teenagers around the world deal with their sexualities in their own time, at their own pace, and these shows and movies do a perfect job in capturing the LGBTQ experience in those early and hectic years.

But I’m a Cheerleader

Graham and Megan looking at each other in But I'm a Cheerleader.

A satirical and deliciously campy film from 1999, But I’m a Cheerleader stars a young Natasha Lyonne as Megan, a cheerleader suspected to be a lesbian by her parents because of her vegetarianism and interest in Melissa Etheridge. Sent to a conversion camp called True Directions, Megan discovers the truth about her sexuality while forming a bond with a fellow camper Graham.

But I’m a Cheerleader received negative reviews upon release but has achieved cult status since then. Recently, critics reappraised the film, calling it a biting take on conversion therapy and a surprisingly subversive piece of LGBTQ content for its time. Megan’s journey will speak to millions of teenagers who, like her, struggle with understanding and coming to terms with their sexuality, especially at a time when nothing seems certain or absolute.

Love, Victor

Victor and Benji at school in Love, Victor on Hulu
Greg Gayne / Hulu

A spinoff of the 2018 film Love, Simon — one of the best mainstream teen rom-coms with an LGBTQ story at its center — Love, Victor follows Victor Salazar, a half-Puerto Rican, half-Colombian teen discovering his sexuality. The show tackles several issues expected from a teen show while providing the titular character enough agency to make mistakes and take risks on his journey of self-discovery.

It’s refreshing to see a Latino character on screen, especially one that’s part of the LGBTQ community and isn’t a walking stereotype. Furthermore, Victor’s evolving relationship with his parents will ring true for many Latino teens from more conservative and even religious families. After streaming exclusively on Hulu for its first two seasons, the show became available on Disney+ for its third and final season.

Pariah

Alike looking out a window while ridiing the bus in Pariah.

Directed by Dee Rees, 2011’s Pariah tells the story of Alike, a 17-year-old girl coming to terms with her identity as a butch lesbian. Alike lives with her family, including her overbearing mother — who openly opposes her choices — and her more supportive but somewhat detached father.

Pariah isn’t always an easy watch, but it’s a film worthy of being seen and, most importantly, experienced. The film is an insightful and heartfelt look into the struggles that a Black lesbian girl faces, especially when she lacks the support of those closest to her. The film succeeds because of the honest empathy it has for its leading character, and ends with a powerful and hopeful promise of a better tomorrow.

Alex Strangelove

Alex and Elliot walk down the street in Alex Strangelove.

One of the best romantic comedies on Netflix, Alex Strangelove follows Alex Truelove, a teenager who starts dating his longtime friend, Claire. Things get complicated when he meets Elliot, an openly gay teenager who develops an obvious crush on him, sending Alex into a spiral of confusion.

Elevated by its heartfelt humor and the intense chemistry between all three leads, Alex Strangelove offers a refreshing take on teenage sexuality. The film takes risks yet still embraces the genre’s trademark sentimentality, approaching its subjects fearlessly yet delicately and crafting an insightful story about friendship, romance, and everything in-between.

Heartstopper

Nick helps Charlie out in Heartstopper.

Romance! Rugby! Olivia Colman! Heartstopper has it all. Netflix’s coming-of-age drama follows Charlie and Nick, two teenagers at an English all-boys school who develop a close friendship that soon turns into something else.

Heartstopper explores nearly every corner of the LGBTQ spectrum. Nick and Charlie remain the focus of the series, but the story takes time to showcase other romances, like the relationship between Tara and Darcy. Elle, a transgender girl and one of the show’s best characters, receives equal attention, as does her growing feelings for her best friend, Tao. Heartstopper is the sweetest love song come to life, Taylor Swift’s “Lover” by Eton College. And yet, the show is so aware of its wholesomeness that it proves irresistible, capturing audiences in an unbearably warm hug that refuses to let go.

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