'Secret Love' On Netflix: Meet The Real-Life Couple Who Kept Their Lesbian Love Affair Hidden For 65 Years

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'Secret Love' On Netflix: Meet The Real-Life Couple Who Kept Their Lesbian Love Affair Hidden For 65 Years
Entertainment And News

Netflix has been kept everyone happily binging on real-life stories as we all survive lockdown from coronavirus this spring. On April 29, they'll premiere a love story that tells the history of one couple in particular, and the story of LGBTQ culture in America generally.

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In Secret Love on Netflix, audiences will get to meet Pat Henschel and Terry Donohue. The two women met in 1947 and fell in love with one another right away. They stayed together for the next seven decades, telling their families that they were friends but keeping their real relationship a secret the whole time. 

When they finally decided to share their truth with the families it was 2009. Donahue’s great-nephew, Christopher Bolan wanted to tell their story and started filming Secret Love

Who is the real-life couple from Secret Love on Netflix? Read on for the details. 

Who is Terry Donahue?

Even if you didn't get into the story of Terry Donahue's personal life, she has the kind of life a story that movies are made of — literally. Donahue played baseball for the All American Professional Girls Baseball League, which was famously commemorated in the movie A League Of Their Own. Donahue's own story sounds similar to that of the fictional Dottie and Kit; she played baseball at home in Canada where she grew up on a farm. A scout saw her play and invited her to a tryout in Mississippi. She made the league and was assigned to the Redwings, an expansion team based in Peoria, IL. She played for four seasons and said she played every position except pitcher and first base. After four seasons in the AAPGBL, she went to play for the rival National Girls Baseball League in Chicago. Once she retired from baseball, she worked in for an interior design firm doing accounting and bookkeeping.

Who is Pat Henschel?

Henschel was still a teenager when she met Donahue. Donahue, who was 22 at the time, was in Nova Scotia during a winter break from baseball. She had dated boys before meeting Donahue but quickly realized where her true attractions lay. “All of these strange things are happening and I thought, this is not what I was supposed to do,” she says in the movie. “That was before I met Terry. That changed everything.” They stayed in touch after Donahue returned to the U.S, for baseball season and Henschel would travel to see her play. Eventually, she moved to Chicago to be with Donahue.

But they never told anyone that they were in love. 

Donahue could have lost her job playing ball over their relationship.

The US was not tolerant of same-sex relationships at all in the 1940s when the two women first met. In fact, the AAPGBL did everything in its power to dispel the suspicion that any of the players were gay. Women could be fired from the league for having too short a haircut and they were required to wear feminine clothes and makeup. “[Y]ou had to be very discreet, and we were,” Henschel said in a 2018 interview. “No one was even aware of it because we got so careful and no one would have even imagined anything at all.”

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There were laws against being gay at the time.

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During the early years of Henschel and Donahue's relationship, most states had laws against homosexual sex acts that led to widespread discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. There were raids on gay bars and nightclubs that could result in patrons being arrested just for being there. Being caught in such raids could have dire consequences; loss of jobs, estrangement from family, and ostracism from society at large. Henschel and Donahue were aware of the dangers of being open with their relationship so they just kept it a secret. Their families thought they were friends and they told other people that they were cousins. Even as society began to be more accepting of same-sex couples, they continued the deception until 2009. 

They were in their 80s when they came out.

In 2009, the women had been a couple for over 60 years and decided that they didn't want to keep their love a secret anymore. When they told their families the truth, not only did they have their acceptance, Donahue's nephew Christopher Bolan wanted to tell their whole story. He started filming them in 2011 and said they were like "giddy schoolgirls" finally getting to tell “seven decades’ worth of stories.” The process of making Secret Love took until 2014 and gives an overview of the way life has changed for the LGBTQ community as well as the remarkable life story of one couple. 

Donahue passed away in 2019.

Donahue was 93 years old when she died in 2019. More than half a century since she was hiding her sexuality from her baseball league, the AAPGBL recognized her romantic relationship with Henschel in a tweet marking her passing.

Secret Love airs on Netflix on April 29. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.

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