|Posted on November 16, 2013 at 8:55 PM|
By Dennis Stone
Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom were soulmates. I use the past tense because Tom died in 2011 when he fell from a rooftop while taking photos of a friend. Tom’s family, who had reacted harshly when he came out to them, threatened Shane with violence if he tried to attend the funeral or the burial. And the hospital would not give him any details about Tom or his accident because there was no legal connection between them. Despite their lifetime commitment, starting a business together, and sharing a mortgage, they were just roommates in the eyes of the legal system.
Tom Bridegroom (left) and Shane Bitney Crone
Shane grew up in a conservative Republican family in a small Montana town. A few months after graduation from high school he moved to Los Angeles. A few months after that he met Tom, and both soon knew they were meant to be together forever. They made a few charming videos of themselves in their early years that you can see here.
At that time they were not out to their families, but they decided that coming out was something they had to do. Shane’s family, despite their conservative small town roots, were accepting, and happy that he had found his true love. His nieces considered Tom to be an uncle. Tom’s family in Indiana, unfortunately, had the classic intolerant reaction. His father physically attacked him and threatened him with a gun. His mother blamed Shane for “making” Tom gay. They were upset that he hadn’t told them earlier so they could have gotten him psychological help. This all happened…drum roll please…at Christmas. I doubt if any overly-dramatic coming out movie has ever had a more stereotypical negative family reaction.
Considering the two family reactions, there’s irony in the fact that Shane, with the accepting family, was the one who was most fearful of openly being himself, the one most ashamed of being gay, the one most repressed, while Tom, as Shane later said in a letter, “lived his life fully, openly, and lovingly, and he always encouraged me to embrace my flaws and strengths with pride.”
After Tom’s death Shane was shattered. I can’t imagine losing the love of my life so suddenly and at such a young age (Shane was 25 when Tom died). The reactions of the hospital and Tom’s family made the situation far worse. But Shane is a remarkable man, and a year later he made a YouTube video to memorialize Tom and to plead for legal equality in the face of what he had experienced after Tom’s death. The video went viral. (You can watch it here.)
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, creator of Designing Women, saw the video, and after meeting with Shane she directed a documentary about Shane and Tom called, simply, Bridegroom. Bloodworth-Thomason felt an affinity with the story because her mother had gotten AIDS many years earlier from a blood transfusion, and they had experienced much of the same hatred and discrimination that LGBT people have experienced.
The movie has appeared and won awards at various festivals (including Tribeca). It has also played some theaters and has appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s network (OWN). It is available on Netflix and iTunes, and also from Amazon and other sources.
The whole experience has turned Shane Bitney Crone, once so repressed and fearful, into a tireless advocate for LGBT rights. As he says himself: “I no longer live in a shadow of shame and embarrassment, and mostly because of Tom. I am proud of the love we shared, and the plans we made, and I want to help others carry out the dreams we never saw come true, even if it’s just through the telling of my story in this film. Bridegroom is not about revenge or politics. It is a film about love, forgiveness, and about finding the courage to be who you are when the world says you shouldn’t. This is my fairy tale, and Tom is, and always will be, my happy ending.”
WARNING!!!! If you watch this movie or Shane’s YouTube video, you will cry. But I think you will also feel strengthened, more determined to fight for equality, and more believing in the idea that true love is real. It can’t be destroyed by hate or intolerance. Or even death.