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.
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.
How 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.
It’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!
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