Marriage Equality Week Special: Shelter

by Henry Gorman

This Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling were victories, if only small ones, in the major ongoing civil rights campaign of our time.  But another battle– the fight to bring representation of gay and lesbian relationships to the media– has continued to stall.  Although TV has made huge strides since Will and Grace, many gay characters today remain peripheral sidekicks and simpering stereotypes.   Also, television shows and movies are still reluctant to show gay characters being affectionate with one another and often seem to feel a need to “punish” them with tragic deaths.  Even good works often fall into this trap.


"I wish I knew how to quit you, heteronormative narrative tropes"

“I wish I knew how to quit you, heteronormative narrative tropes”

But sadly, apart from some stuff made by Ryan Murphy, there just haven’t been that many works bucking that paradigm.  So I’m going to honor one movie, which, although it’s not-so-well-known, that does.


That movie is Shelter, often referred to by devotees as “the gay surfing movie.”  Of course, it does have gay people in it, and they do surf.  But it’s also a story about love, responsibility, culture, and class.  Zach, the protagonist, is a poor aspiring artist living in California and helping to care for his sister and nephew.  He frequently hangs out with his old best friend Gabe, a louche rich kid, while trying to figure out what he should do with his life.

Everything changes when he reconnects with Gabe’s older brother, Shaun, a sensitive, handsome screenwriter.  As you might have guessed, the two fall in love.  It isn’t simple, of course.  Zach has to deal with his relationship with his old girlfriend, the prejudices of his family, and the complications that can come with loving a person from a privileged social class and accepting their generosity.

shelter kiss


But the film boldly eschews the facile solution of playing all of these problems for tragedy.  Zach and Shaun earn their happy ending, and yes, they get pretty physical with one another getting there.  Shelter is thoughtful, heartwarming, and beautifully crafted.  If you share my unhappiness with the current media portrayal of gay couples, or if you’re just interested in seeing a good, thoughtful movie about two people in love, I heartily recommend that you check it out.