Documentaries

Powerful Documentary Explores a New Frontier for Gay Rights: Families, Surrogacy and the Politics of Birth

'The Guys Next Door' digs into how adoption laws for gay married couples are evolving.

Photo Credit: Allie Humenuk

Rachel and Tony have three children. Their friends, Erik and Sandro have two. And Rachel has birthed all five kids.

Meet The Guys Next Door, a new documentary on a modern family fighting for the next frontier of gay rights. 

"I think initially the conflict with the first child was the legal aspect and I think that's changing," codirector Allie Humenuk said of Erik and Sandro. With codirector Amy Geller, Humenuk sought to explore the issues of surrogacy and gay parenthood as a celebration of life in an unconventional family.

On the forms of tension they experienced, Tony, Rachel's husband, was worried for her health and didn't want their kids to get less attention. 

"I told Rachel she could have as many children as she wants as long as she gives them away—except ours," Tony said at the time. 

Watch: 'The Guys Next Door' Trailer

Humenuk admired Rachel's steadfast desire to help her friends. 

"She was the instigator, she felt that she could just see that Erik and Sandro would be wonderful fathers. It blew Tony's mind about what was possible," she told AlterNet.

"By and large, Rachel's children were incredibly supportive," Geller said. "Her youngest son Zeke really wanted a younger sibling and there was a little bit of 'why cant we keep one of these kids.' That was the most interesting reaction."

Rachel used donor eggs, so they're not biologically related. But the kids say, "their mom is generally happier when she's pregnant and really blossoms in pregnancy," Geller said. 

The filmmakers' introduction to the family was a happy accident. 

"I knew Rachel through mutual friends and we had worked on different educational projects in the past," Geller explained. 

In 2011, Geller read in a Bates college alumni magazine that Rachel had performed surrogacy for her friends.

After meeting the two families, Geller realized, "She's like an aunt to Erik and Sandro's kids. They see each other a few times a year."

Initially, Humenuk was skeptical about doing a film about surrogacy. That was until she met Erik and Sandro in New York. 

"Within the first couple of hours, I knew there was a film there. It was a magical beginning," she recalled.

The couple has since moved to Portland, Maine, wanting to be closer to family and raise their children in a rural area. 

"Amy and I loved the idea of doing a story about a longitudinal family, but had the conceit that it would be a year in the life of this family and we were still fundraising and editing a year later," Humenuk said, adding, "A lot of it takes place in the year, but towards the end the kids were becoming their own people."

Parents tackle legal issues if they live where surrogacy is against the law or unregulated.

"It's quite complicated and the laws vary from state to state. It's important that you find the right information beforehand about birth certificates," Humenuk explained. "It's an evolving thing. Gay marriage is legal, but the laws are now evolving around adoption issues," she added. 

Surrogacy laws also vary greatly by country. Groups like the Family Equality Council are leading the grassroots outreach of the film and helping redefine what it means to be an American family. 

The Guys Next Door screens at DOC NYC on Sunday, November 13. 

Watch an exclusive clip:

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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