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THE B-LIST: Rainbows and sequins: Positively delightful LGBTQ stories

Pike (Eric Schweig) and Henry (Arye Gross) share a slow dance at a festival in "Big Eden."
Pike (Eric Schweig) and Henry (Arye Gross) share a slow dance at a festival in "Big Eden."

Representation is so dang important.

Humans are shaped by the stories we tell. For those of us who don't strictly adhere to the mainstream of white, straight and male, it can be difficult to find characters we see ourselves in.

Luckily, LGBTQ representation is getting better. It's not perfect by any stretch — who do I pay to get asexual heroes or polyamorous romances on the big screen? — but we've certainly made strides.

Primetime television now features trans characters actually played by trans actors, like Laverne Cox ("Orange Is the New Black") and Candis Cayne ("Elementary"). The beloved comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is built around openly gay and bisexual characters who are fully-fleshed people rather than offensive stereotypes.

And Hollywood is learning that not every film about the LGBTQ community has to revolve around AIDS or violence. Here are a handful of the most enjoyable projects that'll leave you happier by the end credits.

6. "TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR" (1995) Drag queens Vida (Patrick Swayze), Noxeema (Wesley Snipes) and Chi-Chi (John Leguizamo) are driving from NYC to the Drag Queen of America pageant in Hollywood when their Cadillac convertible breaks down in rural Snydersville. The queens stay strong and stare down discrimination while working their magic on the townsfolk. The performances are fierce, the fashions fabulous and Leguizamo steals the show as the sarcastic dreamer Chi-Chi. Vida's empowering friendship with the abused housewife Carol Ann (Stockard Channing) is especially touching.

5. "THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT" (1994) I'm not sure why "drag queens on a road trip" is it's own genre — but I'm not complaining. In this Aussie cult classic, queens Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia (Guy Pearce) ask Bernadette (Terence Stamp), a trans woman and former Les Girl headliner, to join them for a command performance. The only sticky wicket? It's in a town on the other side of the Outback. The three set off in a lavender bus christened Priscilla and find the expected discrimination as well as the unexpected: family, love and a better understanding of themselves. The outrageous costumes, many made from dollar store items, won a well-deserved Oscar; Mitzi's infamous thong sandal dress cost a mere $7.

4. "THE BIRDCAGE" (1996) Gay cabaret owner Armand (Robin Williams) and his drag queen life-partner Albert (Nathan Lane) are forced to play it straight for their son's fiancee's conservative parents (Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest). Featuring one of Williams' greatest performances, "The Birdcage" is jam-packed with hilarity thanks to the antics of Lane and Hank Azaria. But there's still plenty of time for solemn reflection on being true to yourself while supporting the ones you love.

3. "SENSE8" (2015—2018) In this Netflix series, eight strangers from across the world are suddenly mentally connected and must work together to survive an evil threat. The brainchild of the Wachowski Sisters — the trans visionaries who gave us "The Matrix" and "Jupiter Ascending" — "Sense8" is one the best, trippiest sci-fi series of the last 20 years. The intense story is cleverly filmed. The diverse cast includes Doona Bae, Naveen Andrews and trans actress Jamie Clayton (who plays trans character Nomi). And it tackles meaty themes like identity, love, freedom, mental illness and, of course, LGBTQ liberation.

2. "PRIDE" (2014) There's no better time to watch this "based on true events" ode to Pride, punks and 1980s England. A group of gay activists (and one lesbian) head to a small town in Wales to hand-deliver a donation to support striking miners. Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott and Joe Gilgun star. The script is witty and sharp. The soundtrack is as banging as you'd expect. And the central theme of fighting for what you believe in shows common ground between vastly different groups.

1. "BIG EDEN" (2000) Henry (Arye Gross), a successful artist in NYC, heads back to Big Eden, Montana, when the grandfather who raised him has a heart attack. It isn't long before Henry finds himself torn between his childhood love Dean (Tim DeKay) and the bashful owner of the general store, Pike (Eric Schweig). No exaggeration: this movie is one of the sweetest, purest films I've ever seen. Big Eden is the sort of small town that can only exist in fiction, beautiful, devoid of homophobia and populated with well-meaning townsfolk who genuinely want the best for Henry. There are a dozen loving, supportive relationships interwoven into the simple, heartwarming story. You'll laugh, you'll cry — you'll cry some more. It's a gentle, cathartic little gem of a film, guaranteed to make you feel better about life.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at abarry@shawmedia.com.

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