Runtime: 83 minutes
Director: Chris Bolan
By Jenni Holtz
“Are you still holding out?” a man asks, seated across from his husband. Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel sit opposite the men and laugh in response. Despite being together for over sixty-five years, Pat has some hesitations about getting married. Those hesitations along with the couples’ life story are the subject of “A Secret Love” (2020).
Pat and Terry’s love story began in Canada in the 1940s. The two moved to Chicago where they lived and worked together, all the while keeping their relationship a secret. As lesbians living pre-Stonewall, they feared what may happen if people found out about their sexuality. They watched LGBTQ+ people lose jobs, family, and housing for not being straight. It was commonplace for police to raid gay bars and question people wearing clothing marketed toward the opposite gender, so Pat and Terry slipped under the radar. They had gay friends but avoided going to gay bars and dressed very ladylike so no one would suspect their relationship was anything more than platonic. After so many years of loving in secret, sharing their relationship with their family was a pivotal moment captured by the filmmakers of the documentary.
Pat and Terry’s life in the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago was kept entirely secret from their friends and family, showing the depth of fear of being rejected for their difference. Though their love was hidden, Terry’s life was somewhat in the spotlight. Terry was a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1946 to 1948. She played on the Peoria Redwings team, one of the teams that inspired the film “A League of Their Own” (1992). Fifty years later, Terry still carried around signed baseball cards from her days in the league that she gave out to fans. Terry’s place in the baseball league was a major reason for her and Pat’s move to Chicago, bringing them closer to the gay community in a way that wasn’t possible in their small hometown in Canada.
Seeing older lesbians on-screen and hearing their stories is invaluable. So much of the older LGBTQ+ generation was lost to the AIDS epidemic or suicide, so it’s extremely powerful to hear the voices of our elders. Terry and Pat’s story is just one of many that is seldom given media attention. “A Secret Love” is a must-watch documentary for all that will make viewers smile, cry, and recognize the importance of acceptance.