About The Brooks Fund History Project

"They had a common characteristic even the people themselves didn't recognize — courage." -Nashville Scene

The Brooks Fund History Project is ongoing and diverse multimedia archival record of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) life in Middle Tennessee which is archived in Nashville Public Library’s Special Collections Division: Oral History Collections. This collection, accessible to the public, provides a record of an earlier generation that struggled for acceptance with themselves, their family and community.

In spring 2009, Deidre Duker and Phil Bell conducted extensive interviews, chronicling the lives of Middle Tennesseans as part of Phase I of The History Project. It contains interviews with gay, transgender and bisexual residents, reflecting on life here before 1970, and how homosexuality was viewed in the larger community.

“Gay and lesbian citizens of Middle Tennessee have a lot to tell us about what life was like for them fifty or sixty years ago,” said Iris Buhl, volunteer chair of The History Project. “They were – and are – an integral part of the fabric of this community. Our knowledge of the history of Middle Tennessee is incomplete without their stories. That’s why the Brooks Fund is committed to this effort.”

Of the 26 interviews collected, 11 are gay men, some of whom led dual lives before the 70s; and five lesbian and two transsexual women. Three more interviews were conducted with same sex couples, one with a group recollecting the early days of gay bars in Nashville; and four with straight observers. The average age of gay men interviewed was about 73; the lesbian and transgender women were, on average, about 71-years-old.

All but two participants were videotaped and many graciously donated relevant memorabilia from the period being recorded. These oral histories were made into the documentary film,  A Secret Only God Knows, directed by Deidre Duker, that premiered on Nashville Public Television in 2015.



“The biggest revelation was how much courage it took for most of our interviewees to talk to us,” said Buhl. “The old fears are still very deeply engrained in so many of them, even if they are leading relatively open lives now. As a result, each story is very special and each person a hero.”

The Brooks Fund History Project is made possible through the vision, resources, and continuing commitment of donors and volunteers.

LGBTQ+ History Project Steering Committee
The Late Iris Buhl, Chair
Community Volunteer

Phil Bell

John Bridges

Deidre Duker
Producer, Writer

Roger Moore, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Vanderbilt University

Robyn Smith

Dan Cornfield, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Director, Vanderbilt Institute for Nashville Studies
Vanderbilt University
The Brooks Fund History Project Consultant