Growing Up Gay: 5 Movies About LGBTQ+ Youth

We showcase movies with pride for teens and those young at heart.

In Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased—in theaters September 28—Joel (Lucas Hedges), a young man just coming to terms with his sexuality, is given an ultimatum—attend conversion therapy or be shunned by his family and friends. Adapted from Garrard Conley's poignant memoir with an all-star cast (including Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe), Boy Erased explores one teen’s struggle to find himself when everyone is telling him to reject what he feels.

While adolescence is complicated enough for most kids, LGBTQ+ youth are faced with a world generally hostile to their emerging sense of identity and desire. For pride month, we showcase five films that bring to the screen the agony and ecstasy of growing up gay.

Theodore Pellerin and Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased

Pariah | Finding one’s place

In Dee Rees’ Pariah, 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) struggles to find her place in the world—as a poet, an African American, a young woman, and a lesbian. Rees, who didn’t come out of the closet until her twenties, remembers how "I was really inspired by these out and proud teenagers" she met in in New York. For Alike, "It's not so much coming out, but coming into," says Rees. Her struggle, like so many other teens, is to be at ease with her difference. “When Alike finally confronts what it means to be an outcast,” explains Time Magazine, “she finds other doors beyond those she’s always known, and the courage to walk through them.”

Get Pariah now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Adepero Oduye finds her own way in the official trailer for Pariah

Brokeback Mountain | A love that never grows old

In casting Brokeback Mountain, a love story that would span decades, Ang Lee intentionally cast young. “The interesting part of casting us at such a young age was that we didn’t completely understand what we were involved in, and that’s the beauty of the movie as well,” explains  Jake Gyllenhaal. It will take a lifetime for Jack (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) to fully grasp what they had when they were young and, as The Los Angeles Times puts it, “stumbled into the great love of their lives.” 

Get Brokeback Mountain now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger can never quit each other in Brokeback Mountain.

My Summer of Love | The heat of first love

In Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love, when Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a college student home for the summer, accidently meets Mona (Natalie Press), a working class gal with an ex-con, born-again Christian brother (Paddy Considine), sparks fly. “Their relationship moves from the sisterly to the sexual and beyond, into the kind of feverish, all-consuming intimacy that makes everything else seem insubstantial,” notes The New York Times. Their young passion may burn too fiercely, but as AfterEllen reminds us, “watching them fall for each other is enough to bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded."

Get My Summer of Love now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Emily Blunt and Natalie Press find young passion in My Summer of Love.

Milk | Hope for the future

The groundbreaking politician Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn in a Academy Award®-winning performance) is the focus of Gus Van Sant’s Milk. But the focus of the man himself was on making things better for the next generation. Cleve Jones (played by Emile Hirsch) recalls how as young man living on Castro Street, “I needed a father figure, and Harvey was really such an appropriate mentor." From fighting for LGBT teachers to reaching out to closeted teens, Milk fought for the future. As he says in the film, “we have got to give them hope! Hope for a better world. Hope for a better tomorrow.”

Get Milk now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) pushes a young Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) to take control of his future in Milk.

Beginners | Young at heart

In Mike Mills’ Beginners, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) learns from his father Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet in his seventies, that one is never too young to live. Hal’s character is based on Mills' own dad. "His coming out was actually this gesture, of him saying 'I want life. I want more life’,” recalls Mills. Old in age, Hal has the heart of a teenager, excited about everything from house music to personal ads. Plummer, who won his first Academy Award® at 82 for his performance, completely understands Hal's enthusiasm: “you ain't got much time left, so you've got to discover things while you can."

Get Beginners now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Christopher Plummer starts life again with Goran Višnjić as his lover in Beginners.

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