A Secret Only God Knows, a documentary produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the Brooks Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, premieres Thursday, June 25, at 9:30 p.m. on NPT.
The 30-minute documentary grew out of the Brooks Fund History Project, a multimedia documentation of the lives and experiences of Middle Tennessee’s LGBT community. To that end, a series of interviews were filmed between 2009 and 2012 and are now available for viewing in an archive housed in the Nashville Public Library’s Special Collections department. Transcripts of those interviews and nearly 800 photographs, letters and other memorabilia donated by the participants are also found in the archive.
In A Secret Only God Knows, interviewees discuss coming of age in an era when homosexuality and transgender issues were not discussed. “We just didn’t talk about it,” is a common refrain in the pieces. “We’re talking about people who, at the time we started interviewing, were at least 70 years old,” said local documentarian Deidre Duker, “so imagine all of the changes that they have witnessed with regard to civil rights or openness around homosexuality or transgender.” Duker, along with producer Phil Bell, conducted the interviews.
Each participant was born before 1940 and lived in the Middle Tennessee area for at least 10 years prior to 1970. This criteria was chosen in part because of the Stonewall riots of summer 1969. “Stonewall, when we looked at historical dates, was a real pivotal moment in the United States because it was the first time a group of people challenged the status quo with regard to police and what were frequent raids on gay bars,” Duker said. Also, given that the 1960s was a decade of numerous social changes, 1970 was seen as an appropriate demarcation of “before” and “after.”
The importance of preserving oral histories has been underscored by the deaths of two of the documentary’s participants. Other interviewees are now in their 80s and early 90s. “We felt like we were racing against the clock in a lot of ways,” Duker said.
A Secret Only God Knows will also air on NPT2 Monday, June 29, at 9:30 p.m., and Tuesday, June 30, at 2:30 p.m.