‘We Live Here’ Spotlights LGBTQ+ Families In The Midwest

Melinda Maerker wasn’t aiming for “We Live Here: The Midwest” to be unveiled just weeks before Christmas, when networks and streaming platforms are emphasizing feel-good content.

Still, the filmmaker is confident that those who check out her new documentary will find a “very positive message for the holidays,” even if it doesn’t evoke the sentiments found on the Hallmark Channel.

Released by Hulu on Dec. 6, “We Live Here: The Midwest” is a brisk, but nonetheless insightful, chronicle of LGBTQ+ families living in five Midwestern states: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio.

No doubt viewers from all walks of life can relate to the challenges — from homophobic and transphobic family members to feeling at odds with their religious faith — that the film’s diverse subjects endure. Still, Maerker knew that she wanted to zoom in on LGBTQ+ people who have chosen to live outside of urban, and generally more progressive, enclaves like New York and San Francisco from the get-go.

“We focused on the Midwest because it’s the heartland of family values,” she said. “There are many things good about family values — but what does that mean? Who’s excluded from that? The discrimination that happens in the queer community often takes place within the family. There’s a painful irony there. It was important for us to highlight that family doesn’t necessarily mean your blood relatives.”

Speaking with HuffPost, Maerker and producer David Clayton Miller shared how “We Live Here: The Midwest” was shaped by America’s political climate, and explained why they hope the documentary will be the first in a series.

Your film’s subjects get candid about traumatic life experiences they’ve had. As filmmakers, how did you work together to establish a rapport?

Melinda Maerker: Building trust was super important. This is why we call them courageous families, first and foremost. Yes, they’re part of the queer community ― but no matter what community they’re a part of that’s being maligned at the moment, they’re very courageous to stand up to that.

David Clayton Miller: One of the great things about being a documentarian is that you get to be vulnerable yourself, similar to a reporter dealing with a situation. Obviously when you’re dealing with children, we want to make sure that they feel safe and that the parents felt safe with us talking to them separately.

Jenn and Debb Richmond of Minnesota are among the LGBTQ+ couples featured in Hulu’s “We Live Here: The Midwest.”

David Clayton Miller/Hulu

The legalization of same-sex marriage across the U.S. in 2015 was a major turning point for LGBTQ+ rights. Yet, as the film shows, it seems like people feel a lot less optimistic about the future of the queer rights movement eight years later.

Maerker: People talk about “don’t ask, don’t tell” ― as long as you don’t tell me, it may be OK. Suddenly marriage equality was being celebrated, and there’s been tremendous backlash against that. It feels like that backlash isn’t going away. The fear of anti-gay legislation is justified.

Miller: We’re in scary times right now ― more so than we were two years ago. The third-most powerful person in government [House Speaker Mike Johnson] right now holds antagonistic views of gay people. We have a Supreme Court justice who said he thinks that same-sex marriage should be reversed. So it’s incredibly important for people to see where we are in this country politically.

I think “family values” is a phrase that has been taken by conservatives or hard religious people, but family values exist across the spectrum. These families have family values. They may be a bit different than yours, but they’re still family values.

Mario and Monte Foreman-Powell of Nebraska welcomed their first child last year.
Mario and Monte Foreman-Powell of Nebraska welcomed their first child last year.

David Clayton Miller/Hulu

What was the biggest challenge for you in getting this project made?

Miller: It’s really kind of twofold, because we had to build trust before talking with [our subjects] and making sure they felt safe with us while filming. Now that there’s a big release, they’re going to be exposed to the world. They’re going to be on TV and a lot of people are going to see them. Media’s going to want to interview them.

There are haters out there, and somebody might slip into a DM or something and say, “I think what you’re doing is horrible.” But Hulu has been really good about making sure that these families are aware of those aspects. I’m very excited for these families to be able to act as a vehicle to change people’s minds, to effect change in the world.

The title of the film made me wonder if we might see a follow-up in another region of the U.S. ― maybe “We Live Here: The South.”

Miller: For sure. Melinda and I had such a great experience doing this and really uncovered so many things. We definitely want to go to other parts of the country. In fact, we’re researching right now how to do that. We’d love to get another documentary out before the 2024 presidential election.

Maerker: We’re all afraid of what will happen in the next election, so we feel a responsibility in sharing these stories now.

Director Melinda Maerker, left, and producer David Clayton Miller attend the Los Angeles premiere of "We Live Here: The Midwest."
Director Melinda Maerker, left, and producer David Clayton Miller attend the Los Angeles premiere of “We Live Here: The Midwest.”

Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images

What does the success of this film look like to you?

Miller: One of the things we hope people will get from watching this is: What is it that you fear? Look at these people, look at these families. They have complexities just like yours. They have financial burdens just like yours. They have health issues just like yours.

Maerker: Extremists are extremists, but there are a lot of people in the middle who may not necessarily dismiss [the LGBTQ+ community] but may be wary of supporting or affirming members of that community simply because they don’t know anything about them. There’s that middle ground who don’t understand, but want to. I think that’s the audience we’ll ultimately reach.

Watch a trailer for Hulu’s “We Live Here: The Midwest” below.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

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