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‘A Secret Love’ spotlights remarkable 70-year lesbian relationship

During most of their 72-year relationship, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel told family and co-workers they were good friends and roommates.

Eventually, when they were in their 80s, Donahue and Henschel decided to come out of the closet to their family and acknowledge they were a lesbian couple.

‘A Secret Love’

Their poignant journey is spotlighted in Netflix’s “A Secret Love,” directed by Donahue’s great-nephew, Chris Bolan.

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The touching and pull-at-your-heartstrings documentary follows the couple as they grow old together and wrestle with Donahue’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.

For Donahue, who died at the age of 93 in 2019, it was important to come out and tell people she and Henschel were a romantic couple.

“She didn’t want to go to the grave feeling like she’d lived a lie,” Bolan said in an interview with Time.

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A Secret Love Netflix

Pat Henschel, left, and Terry Donahue, (seen in a vintage photo) shared more than 70 years together as a lesbian couple. Their life is featured in the Netflix documentary “A Secret Love.” Photo: Netflix.

Terry Donahue

Donahue and Henschel met in 1947 when Donahue was 22 and played as a catcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League — the women’s pro organization that would inspire the 1992 Penny Marshall film “A League of Their Own.” Henschel was 18 at the time.

Donahue was a trailblazer and feminist icon in the 1940s for playing in the women’s baseball league.

At the same time, she and Henschel had to hide their identities from the public as gays and lesbians were scorned by society and lived in the shadows. Also, in the 1950s, the U.S. government started a massive witch hunt to purge gays and lesbians from the federal workforce, which was described in the documentary “The Lavender Scare.” 

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Secret romance

Donahue and Henschel fell in love shortly after they met and remained inseparable. They moved to Chicago, where they resided for several decades and kept their romance a secret.

A Secret Love Netflix

During most of their 72-year relationship, Terry Donahue, right, and Pat Henschel, left, told family and co-workers they were good friends and roommates. Eventually, when they were in their 80s, Donahue and Henschel decided to come out of the closet to their family and acknowledge they were a lesbian couple. Photo: Netflix.

“A Secret Love” follows Donahue and Henschel back to when they first met and looks at their professional lives in Chicago. The film also showcases their coming out to their conservative families  and debating whether or not they should get married.

As Donahue and Henschel face the hardships of aging and illness and they enter the home stretch, their love proves resilient to last a full nine innings.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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