Watching sports is great, and a good sports documentary places cultural context behind the on-field athleticism. That’s why we’ve created this list of nine feature-length documentaries that focus on LGBTQ competitors.
While many of the documentaries focus on the pain of queerphobia in athletics, they also highlight the freedom of competing as one’s authentic self and cover a broad range of sports from surfing and figure skating to football and even rodeo.
Some of theses documentaries transcend cliches to reveal the complexities, contradictions and courage of queer athletes competing under pressure.
“Training Rules” (2009)
Underneath the winning record of Pennsylvania State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland was a toxic homophobia that came to light when one of her players, Jennifer Harris, sued after being dismissed for her lesbianism. This documentary interviews Portland’s former players to examine the homophobic atmosphere she maintained and its effect on and off the court.
“Back on Board: Greg Louganis” (2014)
This HBO documentary looks at the homophobia, anti-HIV stigma and other challenges that legendary diver Greg Louganis faced after sweeping medals at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics. In addition to the fear surrounding his head injury at the 1988 Seoul Games — ignorant critics said his undisclosed HIV-status “endangered” other divers, even though it posed no threat — the film also recounts the timid sponsors who snubbed Louganis due to homophobia and the personal manager who allegedly swindled him for millions.
“F(l)ag Football” (2014)
“F(l)ag Football” follows three teams on their way to the National Gay Flag Football Championships and looks at the camaraderie and pride they’ve developed along the way. It features stars gay former NFL player Wade Davis, who serves as team captain of the New York Warriors, and Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler, who also co-founded the National Gay Flag Football League.
“OUT in the Line-Up” (2014)
The trailer’s tagline reads, “The spirit of surfing is freedom, yet many surfers don’t feel so free.” With unflinching, emotional interviews with several competitive surfers from Australia, Hawaii, California, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands, viewers learn how the closet impacts individual surfers, their careers and sponsorships. However, it ends on a hopeful note about the increasingly supportive international surfing community.
“Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo” (2014)
While this documentary follows five wranglers and riders competing in a complete season of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), it also has a dark undercurrent running through it. IGRA’s participants and chapters have begun declining and its rodeo hands admit that they’d be unable to work elsewhere if people learned of their behind-the-scenes work at a gay event. This reality makes its profiles of gay, lesbian and trans cowfolk all the more compelling, especially as one rides in defiance of her cancer diagnosis.
“Game Face” (2015)
Mixed-martial-arts fighter Fallon Fox and college basketball player Terrence Clemens have both endured queerphobia for competing as openly trans and gay athletes, respectively. Both were outed and then faced subsequent backlash from teammates and spectators . Director Michiel Thomas creates a compelling and cutting-edge doc by interweaving their competition footage along with shots of them navigating their personal and professional struggles.
“Alone in the Game” (2018)
We’ve criticized this film for myopically reinforcing a dire image of sports as unwelcoming to LGBTQ athletes, even as it features competitors like Robbie Rogers, Gus Kenworthy, Megan Rapinoe, Chris Mosier and others who’ve been accepted and celebrated. Nevertheless, some of its stories are gut-wrenching as athletes discuss being tormented by homophobia. Its director hopes the film will compel more powerful people in the sports world to take further steps to create an outwardly inclusive environment.
“The Ice King” (2018)
When British Olympic figure skater John Curry won gold at the 1976 Austrian Winter Games, he transformed the sport with his dramatic grace and dancer’s sensibility. But media speculation about his sexuality and a newspaper outing snatched joy from what should’ve been his golden moment . This film focuses on his life’s accomplishments, tumultuous upbringing and the aftermath that isolated him until his HIV-related death at age 44.
“Man Made” (2018)
Trans director T. Cooper’s documentary looks at five trans bodybuilders training for Trans Fitcon, the world’s only trans bodybuilding competition. Cooper avoids cliches by examining the personal tensions in each competitor’s lives: One man is misgendered by his grandparents and son, another finds his lesbian lover less attracted to him as he transitions; yet another competes for mainstream titles by hiding his trans identity. Over time, Cooper reveals the very concepts of masculinity and strength to be fluid social constructs entirely in the eyes of their beholders.
Let us know if we missed any great feature-length queer sports documentaries — you can tweet us @outsports or email us at [email protected]