Bridegroom’s Shane Bitney Crone Inspires Gay Youth, Bill Clinton and Marriage Equality Advocates
By Kirsten Ott
Shane Bitney Crone is a hopeful romantic. His partner Tom Bridegroom was, too. They were hopeful romantics together until one day the unthinkable happened: Tom died. On May 7, 2011, the 29-year-old had a tragic accident and just like that, he was gone. Tom, the man Shane devoted all of his love to and shared all of his deepest secrets and wildest dreams with, was instantly removed from Shane’s life. In addition to this terrible thing, other unthinkable acts took place, including the hurtful behavior of Tom’s family. Because Tom’s family would not accept that he was gay and because Shane and Tom were not married, Shane was excluded from the funeral, and he was denied any survivor benefits, despite owning a business and a home with Tom. The two young men shared everything together, saving money wherever they could so they could travel the world. They dreamed of one day becoming legally married when California would once again allow for gay marriage. Tragically, the overturning of Proposition came far too late for Shane and Tom.
On May 7, 2012, the first anniversary of Tom’s death, Shane posted a video on YouTube titled “It Could Happen to You.” He created it to honor his partner and show the world what can happen when two people committed to each other are legally barred from the rights and protections afforded by marriage. The video had a profound effect and quickly gathered more than 3 million views. (Now it’s up to almost 4.5 million.)
The quest to turn it into a documentary rapidly became one of the most funded film projects of all time on Kickstarter. It has garnered attention from a host of celebrities, including Neil Patrick Harris, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Cher. And now that it’s attracting viewers from all over, it’s even got some titallating Oscar buzz.
I spoke with Shane Bitney Crone, now 27, in a transcontinental phone call—he in Los Angeles, me in Atlanta—and we came together for a discussion about how the movie Bridegroom came to be, moving forward after the loss of a loved one and what it’s like continuously revisiting a painful story.
Only a few weeks after the YouTube video was up, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, the Emmy-nominated creator of TV hits Designing Women and Evening Shade, called Shane. “She convinced me that this was story that needed to be told,” says Shane. “A lot of people don’t know this, but Linda’s mom passed away from AIDS after contracting the illness from a blood transfusion, and she witnessed firsthand the discrimination toward the gay community. This was personal for Linda, and it made me feel comfortable and trust her.”
Shane says that Kickstarter was the “right platform” for raising funds for Bridegroom because “so many people wanted to help.” It easily became “the people’s film” because it really could happen to any LGBTQ American not fortunate enough to live in a state where their marriage is legally recognized and have a supportive family.
The emotional and influential documentary—which Shane tells me took 12 months of working 10-12 hour days for 7 days a week to make—explores the outpouring of feelings that so many people, including Shane but also his family as well as friends that he and Tom shared and Tom’s childhood friends, felt. The film takes the audience through all the heart-shattering emotions that occurred with Tom’s death, Tom’s family’s shunning of Shane and the aftermath of it all. The takeaway—the available talking and thinking points—from the film is enormous. It speaks to being gay and young in America; coming out (or not); marriage equality; and homophobia in families, hospitals, schools and society at large.
Reliving the nightmare that he endured isn’t always easy for him, Shane says. His inspiration to forge on comes from the love he and Tom shared. “Tom always encouraged me to stand up for myself and believe in myself. I didn’t always do that, and I think he would be proud of me. Even though it’s not always easy, I feel like I owe it to him. […] I feel a sense of responsibility to continue sharing as long as it helps people. When I hear from suicidal teenagers who tell me [Bridegroom] gave them hope, I know I’m doing something good. This is bigger than me. This story represents a lot of people. It’s not just about me and Tom.”
Bridegroom’s message isn’t just for the LGBTQ community. It speaks to equality as a human right, which is why Bridegroom won the Audience Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it was introduced by former President Bill Clinton. Oprah debuted it on television on OWN, and it’s available on Netflix. On Nov. 19, Virgil Films released it for sale on DVD through Amazon and iTunes. (Go buy it now, rate it, review it, help get this important story get out to the masses.)
TALK TO SHANE
On Wednesday, November 20, Shane Bitney Crone will be giving an Ask Me Anything interview on Reddit. Join him at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT and ask him anything! Shortly before the AMA interview begins, Shane will post the link to the live thread on Twitter. @ShaneBitney
WATCH THE VIDEO
“It Could Happen to You,” Shane Bitney Crone’s video that inspired Bridegroom