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'The Out List' offers comprehensive view of LGBT experience

By the time "The Out List" premieres on HBO Thursday evening, it will already feel a little dated.

That's not meant as a knock on director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' documentary, a compilation of interviews with 16 prominent members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Well-known celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris and Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears all get time to directly address the camera and chat about where LGBT America has been and where it's headed.

So, too, do less-familiar faces like Latina lesbian sheriff Lupe Valdez and New York ball performer Tiggy Pucci Garcon -- which is good news, since it's the lesser-known subjects who have the more interesting stories. By blending diverse perspectives, "The Out List" offers an entertaining and comprehensive examination of LGBT life.

Still, the hour-long film reveals the challenges posed by documenting something that is actively evolving -- especially when the changes come as rapidly as they have to the LGBT movement. HBO chose to air "The Out List" on the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the same day many expected to be the last day of the Supreme Court's term. The timing isn't without its downside. Wednesday's landmark court decisions have already changed the national conversation on LGBT rights, and within the documentary, comments from several interviewees now feel out-of-date. Most notably, financial guru Suze Orman's discussion of her tax situation suddenly feels like a history lesson.

On a broader level, the film's airdate could hardly be better. The contrast between Stonewall and Wednesday's takedown of DOMA resonates throughout the film. The LGBT movement really started with a flamboyant, rebellious spark outside a New York bar. Now, it's the closest to mainstream integration it has ever been.

The tension between those poles -- assimilation and, for lack of a better word, separatism -- is discussed by several interviewees in "The Out List," and the film's greatest strength is its refusal to take sides. Greenfield-Sanders lets actress Cynthia Nixon talk about the importance of coming together, but he also leaves the camera rolling when drag performer Lady Bunny issues a bitter defense of drag queens and non-normative gay culture. (Lady Bunny's last words are the film's breakout moment, by the way. Here's hoping this movie gets her a show on LOGO.)

And once each of those subject has had their say, the camera lingers for a moment, leaving the audience staring directly at them before fading out. What a powerful reminder from the documentary that, at least for now, being a member of the LGBT community means being somewhere in the interstice.

"The Out List" premieres Thursday (June 27) at 9:30 p.m. on HBO.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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