Highlights from 35 years of queer storytelling at Outfest Los Angeles


When Outfest — Los Angeles’ leading LGBTQ film festival — was started in 1982 by UCLA students, its aims were modest. Organizers just wanted to increase the visibility of LGBTQ people with a space where films by and about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer folk were celebrated.

Thirty-five years later, what was once known as the Los Angeles International Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival is an 11-day tour de force of film (and TV) screenings, panel discussions and other happenings throughout the city, and the mission is about more than just being seen.

“Some people might think that this is just about queer visibility and once you’re seen everywhere, there's no need for the festival,” Christopher Racster, the festival’s executive director, said. “But this is a community experience. This is one of the few opportunities for people to come together and see ourselves as a group and really feel affirmed.”

As this year’s festival ends Sunday, we take a look back, through photos, at Outfest’s three-decade journey.


Ian McKellen is honored

In 1997, Outfest created what would become its highest honor, the Outfest Achievement Award, to recognize excellence in queer film. After being presented to director John Schlesinger in its initial year, actor Ian McKellen was its recipient the year following, “for his unflinching commitment to creating fully realized gay characters on screen and his pioneering efforts as one of the first out actors.” The award was presented by author Armistead Maupin.

Ian McKellen, left, was awarded the Outfest Achievement Award in 1998 from presenter Armistead Maupin. (Outfest)


“But I’m a Cheerleader” screening

This film, directed by Jamie Babbit, tackled a serious subject with campy comedy. Following a naive teenager, played by Natasha Lyonne, who is sent to a sexual orientation rehabilitation camp when her strait-laced parents and friends suspect her of being a lesbian, it called into question societal stereotypes about gender and sexuality. Though initially negatively reviewed by most critics, the film has come to be a cult classic among LGBTQ audiences for its multifaceted approach to representing the community. And the hilarious, ironic roles played by RuPaul (in man-drag), Cathy Moriarty and Clea DuVall are the cherries on top.

The cast of “But I’m a Cheerleader” at the Ford Amphitheatre in 1999. (Outfest)


‘Glee’ at Outfest

Film is the cornerstone of Outfest but the festival has opened its doors to TV shows that reflect the lives of the community it supports. “Glee,” which debuted in 2009 and ran for six seasons, was one such show with LGBTQ actors and characters taking center stage.

Cory Monteith, left, Chris Colfer, Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch of “Glee” at Outfest in 2010. (Outfest)


Outfest Fusion Labs in Leimert Park

Outfest Fusion, the organization’s companion LGBTQ people of color festival which takes place in the spring, showcases the stories of queer communities of color, including African, African American, Asian diaspora and Latinx perspectives among other cultural identities. It offers classes and seminars, called labs, on filmmaking, often in the heart of communities of color, to ensure greater access to the industry for some of the most marginalized voices.

Shari Page, left, Deondray Gossfield, Tajamika Paxton and Quincy Gossfield help launch Outfest Fusion Labs at Kaos in Leimert Park. (Outfest)


Tom Hanks, Lisa Cholodenko at Outfest Legacy Awards

The Outfest Legacy Awards were created as a fundraising event for the organization’s efforts to promote LGBTQ storytelling. In 2015, Hanks received the Trailblazer Award in recognition of his Oscar-winning performance in 1993's "Philadelphia.” Cholodenko, director of "Olive Kitteridge," was given the Visionary Award for a body of LGBTQ-specific work that includes 1998’s “High Art” and 2010's "The Kids Are All Right.”

Award recipients Tom Hanks and Lisa Cholodenko at the 2015 Outfest Legacy Awards. (Randy Shropshire / Getty Images for Outfest)
(Randy Shropshire / Getty Images for Outfest)