Shane Bitney Crone: Life After Tom

Photography + Story by David Burgoyne

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the Directors Guild of America after the screening of the groundbreaking documentary Bridegroom.

Shane Bitney Crone, the boyfriend of the late Tom Bridegroom, took to the stage to answer questions to a standing ovation with a quiet dignity that made you feel part of his journey.

In 2011, whilst taking pictures of his friend on a rooftop in Los Feliz in Los Angeles, Tom fell to his death leaving behind a heartbroken boyfriend and a legacy that will forever be a part of gay history and our fight for equality. One year later, trying to make sense of the tragic events and his grief, Shane began a video diary as a coping mechanism to get by each day. He edited his footage together to make a YouTube film entitled  It Could Happen to You.  He was chronicling his struggles with being alone and the heartbreaking pain he felt over the loss of his soul mate.

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Tom and Shane wanted desperately to marry. They promised to do so as soon as it was legal but fate had a different role in store for Shane. In the days following Tom’s death, Shane was warned to keep away from Tom’s funeral, even receiving threats from the family warning him not to show up. Tom’s family refused to acknowledge his partnership with Shane and never even mentioned Shane in his eulogy despite the boys having lived together blissfully for several years. The results of his exclusion from Tom’s funeral and the lack of acceptance from Tom’s family spurred Shane to tell his story and to fight for marriage equality. Had Shane and Tom been allowed to marry, the decisions on their joint belongings and funeral arrangements would have been Shane’s. Instead, Tom’s mother swept in and took the things that belonged to them jointly and painfully erased Shane from Tom’s life, or so they thought.

They shared the fullest life together, travelled the world, set up their own business and logged their adventures in hilarious YouTube videos. Tom’s good looks and talent as a musician combined with Shane’s adorable humor and unassuming personality almost guaranteed a successful future for them both. Tragically, Shane was left alone and but it began his journey to fight for equality.

Shane’s story soon went viral online, and garnered the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who told his story on TV, focusing attention on gay marriage rights. When Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (Designing Women) learned his story, she knew she wanted to bring his story to the masses by means of a documentary and Bridegroom was born with the help of a kick starter campaign.

“I actually serendipitously met Shane and Tom about a year and a half before Tom died.” Thomason explained in an interview with Collider.com,  “The owners of the salon where I go were getting married and this was a gay wedding.  Shane and Tom had the little office upstairs, the little shack of a studio that they were operating out of.  So, I didn’t know them.  I didn’t even know they were upstairs.  But, at the wedding, I was seated at their table.  That night was the only time I ever met Tom.  I felt so lucky to get to meet him.  In the film, I felt cheated that I didn’t get to be friends with him because he was such a joyful presence and he’s very appealing.  I thought on the way home that night, and I told my husband, “That is the most adorable couple, gay or straight, I’ve met.  I really hope they get married.”  Cut to, I get a phone call later, I never saw Tom or Shane again, but I got the news that Tom fell off a building and died.  I just was devastated.”

The often traumatic recounting of events eventually helped Shane come to terms with the events surrounding Tom’s death. Being in a position to bring comfort to many in the same situation and highlighting the unfairness of discrimination in our society has been a great source of comfort to Shane and is something he is profoundly grateful for.

I had the honor to meet Tom at the Jingle Bell Ball in 2010, where he was interviewing the performers for their web series ‘imusic-daily.com’. His smile, sense of joy and enthusiasm are something I will never forget. I stumbled across ‘It Could Happen to You’ by accident on Facebook; it was the first I learned of Tom’s death. The sense of shock was palpable and seeing Shane’s personal struggle with grief was heartbreaking. Through my involvement with the singer and performer Luciana, we were honored to help promote his story through social media and draw attention to the fight for marriage equality.

In 2013, California’s Supreme Court restored the right for LGBT couples to marry. A moment of bittersweet pride for Shane, too late for him to realize his dream with Tom but in time to witness history being made and thousands of Californians realize their own dreams of matrimony.

Left magazine wanted to check in with Shane, congratulate him on his achievements and find out what’s next for the humble equal rights campaigner.

<David> It’s great to see you again, how are you doing? <Shane> It’s great to see you! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. I’m doing very well and have been very, very busy! I travel all the time and just finished up the last of this year’s Pride celebrations. I took part in 6 this year!

It’s been over a year since you were on the promotion train for Bridegroom, how does it feel now, looking back at everything that surrounded it’s release? It’s incredible to look back and see how many people got involved in spreading the word about Bridegroom. I was so lucky to have the support of not just my family and friends, but a huge part of the LGBT community and even more, straight and gay people from all over the globe. The amount of love that went into making that film was reflected, if not completely trumped by the amount of love we received from people who donated to it on Kickstarter, watched it at festivals, or viewed it on Netflix and the Oprah Winfrey Network, when it made its TV premiere. Honestly, the release of Bridegroom is almost a dim memory because so much has happened in the twelve months since then. I’ve traveled all over the world to screen the film and share my story, primarily at universities and colleges. The documentary continues to resonate with people and some folks are still discovering the original YouTube video that inspired it, so new people are seeing the documentary all the time. I’m so grateful for the support and love I have received from people all over the globe. It’s astounding and I am very lucky.

I know you barely had a moment to yourself, do you think this helped or hindered your grieving process? We all handle grief differently and while I chose a rather unique route (I don’t know many people who grieve their loved ones on global Social Media sites), it has helped me so much. Also, it’s important to remember that I didn’t release the YouTube video until the one year anniversary of Tom’s death, which gave me a lot of time to really think about my loss and spend time alone, processing what happened and how I wanted to continue on. Since sharing my story, however, it has become more about treasuring the time I had with Tom and showing the world that love is love, no matter what. I get messages from people who are worried that I keep opening the wound every time I talk about Bridegroom or what happened but really, for me, it has been a very healing, cathartic journey. I spent most of my life bottling up my pain and emotions. To be able to put them all out there, for the world to see, is freeing.

brown-jacket-shaneHow difficult was it to go through all your footage of Tom and yourself for the documentary? I spent the year after Tom died making personal video diaries and sifting through all of the footage of Tom and me. At first it was just a way to grieve and then I got the idea to make the YouTube video and share some of the footage with the public — which was terrifying. Tom and I had been ‘out’ for a few years, but not like this, so that was very difficult to face, but I knew I cared more about helping others than getting judged. It was a lot more difficult to go through the footage for the documentary, because I had to sit there and watch the editor and director look through everything, finding clips that would be powerful or captivating enough for the documentary. I had to leave the editing room a lot, sometimes because I was embarrassed and other times because it was just too damn hard to watch such personal memories with other people. But, in spite of all of that, it really helped me start looking at my relationship with Tom objectively; to see it as a strong example of the love two humans can share, which made me want others to see it even more. At the end of the day, I’m just grateful that I have so many documented memories of my time with Tom and I will treasure that footage for forever.

You were both so clearly in love, was it a hard decision to share such deeply personal moments in It Could Happen to You?   Tom was, by far, the greatest thing to ever happen to me. He was my biggest supporter and he loved me unconditionally, despite me not fully loving myself most of the time. I spent a lot of our relationship being ashamed because of the deeply-engrained internalized homophobia that had developed within me since a young age. When your church and the majority of the world are convinced there’s something wrong with being gay, you start to believe it. Sharing our love story and putting a spotlight on the injustices I faced following Tom’s death felt like the right thing to do. It was empowering to put myself out there, in such a public way, after hiding from the world and myself for so long. I knew Tom would be proud of me and would want me to do it, which is what I would tell myself when I started to get scared or nervous.

quote1tomIt’s almost 4 years now since Tom’s death. Has his family made any attempt to repair the damage?  I wish I could say that his parents came around, but they haven’t, and I’ve made peace with that. They lost their son, which obviously could not have been easy, and we all need to remain sympathetic to their heartbreak. I am so happy that many of Tom’s relatives have supported me and the documentary, which makes it so much easier to continue sharing our story. In no way have I wanted to demonize his family or get revenge and I try to remind people of that as often as possible, because I know Tom’s family has received a lot of negative attention since the video and documentary were released. I only wish that Tom’s parents had chosen to love Tom for who he was. He didn’t have a choice to be gay, but they had a choice to support him. I know they loved him very, very much, and I remain hopeful that one day they will acknowledge who their son truly was and will maybe then reach out to me.

Thank you so much for sharing your brave story with us. We sincerely wish you all the best in your future. Can you let us know what’s next for Shane Bitney Crone? If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout these past few years, it is that life is unpredictable! I have no idea where I will be next, since I never imagined three years ago that I would be traveling the world and sharing my life story with complete strangers. I never associated with Pride Parades and now I ride atop floats! I was always shy and awkward and now I speak in front of hundreds of people and give TV interviews! I hope that I can continue using this platform I’ve been given to speak up for LGBT rights as long as possible. I know I am only one person, but if I can make a difference then imagine what a whole group of us could do as a united front! I will continue to travel, to speak at events, meet people, and fight for equality here in the U.S. and abroad. My main goal is to show people that one voice can make a difference and I hope I will inspire others to use their voices to spread love and fight for equality. I am very excited about one upcoming project, though. Starting in November, I hope to release regular YouTube videos on my channel. That website was such an important part of my relationship with Tom and getting me where I am today, and I want to return to it. It’s fun, I can reach so many people, and I am anxious to start working on a new endeavor. So stay tuned and please come subscribe!

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David Burgoyne is a stylist, writer, photographer and artist in Los Angeles. He is a regular contributor to Left Magazine.  Visit davidtburgoyne.com

Read the complete interview with Linda Bloosdsworth-Thomason at Collider.com

32 Comments on Shane Bitney Crone: Life After Tom

  1. Jan Everett // October 8, 2014 at 2:16 pm // Reply

    Again Shane, thank you with all my heart for all you have done and for following your heart. A Proud Mom of a beautiful gay man

  2. Tom is Smiling from Heaven

  3. Lilly Avello // October 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm // Reply

    This movie Bridegroom, is a movie everyone must see to know how we all should be living, With Love! #Tap Tap Tap Shane and Tom!

  4. I feel like GOD had a plan for you and Tom and this was it. You were both born and brought together for the greater good. I know you miss Tom and I think about you both often with tears in my eyes, but I know Tom is looking down from Heaven with that magnificent smile saying “good job Shane.”

  5. hi. I am Amarjit from India in Manipur . after I see your Video log I cry most of the night I miss Tom so much . I wish I could meet you Shane for one time in my life I like to talk to about many thing …..I end here . I know Tom wouldn’t stop loveing you from heaven …. bye bye I love you I hope I see you soon

  6. My partner and I were together for 6 years both being from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Then his family forced us apart forced him to marry and he killed himself 3 months later. He was the only love in my life and it will never heal and I will never let him go from my heart….hope you always keep Tom in your heart one way or another

  7. Shane!!! Tap! Tap! Tap!

  8. I only just watch the mover , how vert touching , I cried because I believe that you both loved each other, my daughter is gay and got married to her partner , she happy and that makes me happy , it not who one love but who you love . Be strong Shane Tom looks down from heaven and knows you can change many people lives with what you share . God bless and pray we find love again . I don’t know you but love you , hope Tom family find in the heart that you love each other . Keep up you good works

  9. Tsega sileshi // July 9, 2015 at 2:15 am // Reply

    After long hrs crying Wow …..LOVE IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO…..Shane you are so brave and strong individual to tell your amazing true love story to the world specily for those from different culture their voice never ever heard I’m one of them I can’t stop crying I’m keep picturing you after tragic loss a day,week,month,year wow how did you do it I’m gald such a weakness won’t get to you God bless you!! Your only TOM is so proud of you and he is tell you to keeping going please don’t stop inspire the world to be a better place for all of us!!!! He never stop smiling his smile was very contagious I’m so so proud of you me as man from completely different culture and GAY!!!! ** HUMAM***

  10. Being a parent of a young man who is gay, I was honored to watch such a beautiful respectful, true story about love!!! I hope my and others can find a great love like you, God Bless You

  11. Lisa Cicero // August 28, 2015 at 8:15 pm // Reply

    I feel privileged to have found this documentary, you and Tom shared a rare and special love that anyone gay or straight would like to have in their lives. I know Tom is in heaven because he was so pure of love and tolerance. As a parent, I know that you have taken the high road when it comes to Tom’s family, but I can’t. Tom never belonged to them, God gave him to them to take care of until he needed him home again, they have a lot of soul searching to do. God is a forgiving God, I hope that they make their hearts right with him before they pass or they will not see Tom again. As for you Shane, I wish you much love and laughter in your life, you have a terrific family and I know you will see Tom again, he’ll be waiting for you at the gate.

  12. Hi,I’m from germany and today I watched your film. I’m sad and sorry for what is happend. Tom looked so beautiful and you, Shane, you are beautiful too. And strong. You make it great, you are wonderful

  13. Drs. A. Fadjar,M.Pd // November 12, 2015 at 9:16 am // Reply

    You are completely guided by the love of God, Tom, to have such great idea and a lot of supports to open the hearts of many and make them realize what true love is and break the rule of traditional marriage; as it has made millions of LGBT suffer all their lives time on earth. Great is your job; and the Lord surely bless your efforts and love others; truly yours with much love!!!

  14. Shane,you and Tom were such an amazing couple and I love seeing you two together and laughing it made me laugh and brought joy to myself.You two were infectious and enjoyable.I have seen the documentary about 12 or 13 times and now would like to buy a dvd and I am looking.Hey,if you ever start a fund drive for a schlarship to honor Tom or anything please post it on Twitter or Facebook , Instagram so everyone can donate and show them their love for you and Tom.I wish it could’ve been Tom and Shane Bridegroom. #tap tap tap , Brian.

  15. I have watched the Bridegroom documentary 2x. I just amazed how wonderful these two loving men .They had so much love for each other. but God have His way. I wonder how shane is coping now ?
    Shane I wish you the best and may you find a wonderful and loving life forever. You deserve it

    God bless you always

  16. enjoyed every second of the story and although Tom is gone his spirit is still with you!

  17. I am very touched by both of you and Tom’s life. Good work Shane, take care of yourself and stay happy

  18. George Schafer // January 2, 2016 at 8:26 am // Reply

    What a beautiful love story. Shane your courage and strength is a true testament of Gods love. May you continue to be surrounded by love, and shine.

  19. Shane God bless you

  20. Jeffrey S. Harris // January 23, 2016 at 8:23 pm // Reply

    Amazing story Shane! I remember coming across your youtube video “It could happen to you” in 2012 and posting it on my FB page in support of gay marriage. Thank God the SCOTUS passed it! Your documentary, “Bridegroom” hits home for me on so many levels. I grew up in Moore, OK and experienced much discrimination like you. Your story with Tom was beautiful yet heartbreaking. I pray you are doing okay and I’m sure that Tom is smiling down upon you from heaven. Good luck in all your endeavors :-)

  21. WOW what a great love story, made me cry. I hope that Tom can see it Shane you have done him proud. XXXX what a gentle soul you are

  22. i saw your video forth and i still cant stop crying when i think about you and your beautiful love wish all the people on the earth could whatch such a thing.love you both guys and great job shane. tom would proud of you

  23. Diana Diaz // May 18, 2016 at 2:08 pm // Reply

    Tap Tap Tap, Shane. What an inspiring and heartfelt love story. I hope someday to meet you and give you a big hug. May God always light your path as you travel through life. You have an amazing family, and everyday you have a new friend. I’m listening…you keep talking. Thank you

  24. Diana Diaz // May 18, 2016 at 2:08 pm // Reply

    Tap Tap Tap, Shane. What an inspiring and heartfelt love story. I hope someday to meet you and give you a big hug. May God always light your path as you travel through life. You have an amazing family, and everyday you have a new friend. I’m listening…you keep talking. Thank you

  25. Roxanne Olson // May 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm // Reply

    Hi shane. I may not be gay but I do support people who are. I saw your program and my heart broke for Tom and for you most of all. Your strength is amazing.. your love just as much. I know Tom’s family loved him but as a parent I can’t understand why the lack of support for him and now you. It breaks my heart. I’m proud of you shane. Always be proud of who you are. DON’T let anyone tell you different. Your a good person with a wonderful soul. Thank you for sharing.

  26. Charlie Hall // June 13, 2016 at 3:54 am // Reply

    Shane,such a brave and strong young man to endure the lose of the love of your life after you two had found each other.My heart was breaking as I watched your movie, I had shared allot of your pain when I was young too.
    I know you are turning your scars into stars and helping so many around the would with your stories and truth.
    I am still so sorry you lost your other half,but God will bring another in due season to warm your heart Shane,Blessing! Charlie Idaho

  27. Raymond McHale // June 29, 2016 at 5:59 am // Reply

    Shane
    I’ve been following you almost from the beginning. I look forward to seeing what’s next for you. My Dad passed away 1 year prior to Tom on the same date, so that date has double meaning for me. I proposed to my boyfriend after seeing your story and watching Bridegroom. You have inspired me as I was very much like you growing up. I was faced with the same obstacles and felt the same way about myself. Thank you and best wishes!!
    Ray

  28. Brad Andrews // July 1, 2016 at 9:56 pm // Reply

    Hi Shane. Just stumbled onto Bridegroom. I was incredibly moved by your story. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart for continuing to educate people around the world. Like you, I feel that if I can change one person’s mind, I have been victorious. This documentary should be manditory watching in schools. I can see already the uproar that might cause. I wish you well & hope you find love again.

  29. David Powers // July 30, 2016 at 7:45 am // Reply

    Shane, I’m 62 years old, my partner of almost 22 years and I married at my family farm in Maine on June 25,2016 I just wanted to let you know how much it means to us that you took on this fight so that we could marry, I had tears in my eyes most of that day as I too from a child knew I’d never be able to marry, so when it came time to walk down the lawn to make our commitment in front of family and friends it was almost impossible to believe that it was happening ! God bless you , your a strong soul and may you find piece on earth till your back in Toms arms in heaven

  30. Thank you, shane, for the beautiful documentary. I grew up in wyoming and related to both you and tom. What a picture perfect, beautiful relationship. As a gay occupational therapist I’ve never been so touched….. ever. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless. The most amazing love story I’ve ever seen in history. Peace be with you.

  31. Mikael Andersson // October 5, 2016 at 8:48 am // Reply

    The bigest hug to you,Shane, for doing this fantastic film (Bridegroom), about you and your loved boyfriend. I cryed when i saw the film. I know Tom is proud of you, Shane, and i also know that Tom is whaiting for you in Gods paradise when it time for you to go there.
    Thank for you show that love is for all people, even if there happen to be two of the same sex love each other. // Mike
    ( i´m from Sweden, and my English is not so good, but i hope you understand )

  32. Shane,
    I just watched your documentary Bridegroom what such a fitting last name for Tom. He wan

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