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Best LGBTQ+ shows and movies to watch on HBO Max in 2021

Zendaya and Hunter Schafer in 'Euphoria' on HBO Max
(Image credit: HBO)

HBO Max still may not have the numbers of subscribers it wants just yet but what it does have is a pretty solid lineup of LGBTQ+ programming. For other streamers, we basically just include everything they have on their platform because it's barely enough to make up a full list. For HBO Max, there's a little bit more thought about what "best" means! Through a mix of original programming and acquisitions, the streamer has built a pretty decent catalogue for those looking for more media that represents their sexuality on screen. 

Euphoria

Euphoria — adapted from the Israeli show of the same name — follows Rue Bennett (Zendaya) and her group of friends as they try to deal with the complicated business of high school. The story has been praised by our very own BJ Colangelo for how it tells coming of age stories in a new light. Rue and Jules (Hunter Schafer) kick up a complicated relationship in the series’ first season, but their exploration will expand far beyond one another as things progress in the narrative. Nothing’s simple in Euphoria, which is what makes the series so exceptional.

Steven Universe

The Cartoon Network series Steven Universe has long been praised for a myriad of reasons. Near the top of that long list is how it opened the door to diversity and inclusion in kids’ shows. The series features a host of characters from all walks of life, including Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Luttrell). Though we don’t meet the lesbian Gems till the end of the first season, an embodiment of them is always around. Garnet (Estelle) — basically the leader of the Gems — is the fusion of the two. Their involvement, coupled with all the Black coded leads of the series, puts Steven Universe lightyears ahead of other shows when it comes to representation (whether for children or adults).

Batwoman

Despite experiencing the unique problem of losing its lead between Season 1 and Season 2, Batwoman has continued to impress on all fronts. The loss of Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) may have been jarring to some fans, but Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) has stepped into the cowl as one of the most refreshing members of the Bat Family yet. The series has never shied away from being as Gay as it wants to be (it’s on the CW, so that’s Very Gay™) but the addition of a Black lead means that they get to explore things in a way they’ve never done before. Season 2 takes an episode or two to find its footing, but with a 23-episode season, it feels like nothing on the grand scheme of things. You can currently binge Season 1 on HBO Max, and can watch the series live on cable or the CW App. (Season 2 will hit the streamer after the season concludes.)

It’s a Sin

This British drama recently took America by storm thanks to HBO Max gaining the North American streaming rights. The five-part series spans from 1981-1991 and showcases a group of men and their friends as they live through the AIDS crisis in the UK. In addition to compelling storytelling and its raw and honest depiction of the dangers of HIV, the series also credited for an uptick in HIV testing in the UK after its skyrocketing popularity.

The Flight Attendant

The Flight Attendant took the world by storm. Though it ended up missing out during awards season by somehow constantly being nominated for comedy, the series was praised by both consumers and critics alike. We may all be done with the gay best friend trope, but Shane Evans (Griffin Matthews) is so much more than that. The character is given more dimension both literally and figuratively — don’t worry, no spoilers here — and plays a major role in the series as a whole. He’s the first one there when Cassie’s (Kaley Cuoco) life starts to unravel, but he’s so much more than an archetype.

Betty

For those who saw Skate Kitchen (2018) — this one’s for you! Betty is a series adaptation of the film, following a group of Gen Zers who are doing their best to stand out in the male dominated skateboard scene in New York. The series features much of the same cast, many of which have queer coded vibes (with Kirt being the only member of the group that’s explicity gay), but those implications may be more because of the Gen Z feel of the show than any direct intentions from the writers. It’s that very thing that makes Betty feel all the more real.

The Trans List

The 2016 documentary The Trans List focuses on eleven transgender Americans and how they navigate life in a country that often ostracizes and erases them. Major names include Supergirl’s Nicole Maines, Caitlin Jenner, Laverne Cox and more, but many critics noted that it was the “smaller” stories that resonated the most throughout the narrative. In addition to the positive critical reception, organizations like GLAAD sang the film’s praises as well. While The Trans List may not be as conventionally entertaining as some of the more pop culture-focused entries on this list, it is most certainly worth a watch.

Steven Universe: The Movie

Sure, we already talked about Steven Universe, but that should be a testament to the series’ success more than anything. Continuing its strong trend of diversity and LGBTQ inclusion, the film follows Steven as he fights to save the Gems after an attack from the nefarious Spinel. Bonus: It’s a musical!

Unpregnant

Based on the novel of the same name, Unpregnant follows Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) and her former friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) as they head out on a unique kind of adventure. After finding out that she can’t get an abortion in her home state of Missouri — and learning that the boy who knocked her up is against the idea of an abortion himself — Veronica and the coerced Bailey have to road trip to Albuquerque to get rid of the baby without her parents’ permission. This misadventure may not focus solely on its queer story, but that lends more to the normalcy of these stories than some might think. Bailey is already an out and proud lesbian before their adventure gets underway, and there’s a couple surprises for her on their little road trip!

Read More:
Best LGBTQ+ shows and movies on Disney+
Best LGBTQ+ shows and movies on Apple TV+

Amelia Emberwing

Amelia Emberwing is the Entertainment Editor and lead critic here at What to Watch. She survives on a steady IV of caffeine, rants, pixie dust and fangirling, and will probably sass you. You can find her on Rotten Tomatoes as an individually approved critic. She's also a member of the Television Critics Association and GALECA.