In 2012 Shane Bitney Crone’s ‘It Could Happen To You’ video became a viral phenomenon. His heartbreaking video, a tribute to his late partner Tom Bridegroom, was posted on the one-year anniversary of his death. Tom Bridegroom fell from a 4th-floor rooftop, whilst taking photos of his best friend and never regained consciousness.
Shane and Tom, practically inseparable, had met in Los Angeles, after leaving their respective small towns in the states of Montana and Indiana. They were together for 6 years before Tom’s tragic passing. Both Tom and Shane had difficulties coming to terms with their sexuality in small town America, being victim to homophobic abuse, which is an all too familiar story for many young gay teens. The draw of the big city, somewhere where they’d feel more accepted was something that attracted them both.
‘The day I left Montana I felt much more free’, recounts Shane.
‘I was just so excited about my life. I spent so many years just wanting to get away and finally there was that moment where I could move away and find someone who could love me – and I did.’
One year on from the ‘It Could Happen To You’ video, Shane and Tom’s story has been turned into a full-length documentary film.
Heartbreaking, but inspirational, poignant and arguably one of the most important films of this generation, Bridegroom isn’t just a story about marriage equality.
Before the run up to the film’s release, (Oprah’s Own Network premiered the film at the end of October 2013 in the United States, whilst Netflix has made the film available worldwide), I had a moment with Shane to ask him about the making of the initial ‘It Could Happen To You’ video and the subsequent Bridegroom documentary. I wondered what had made him want to make that first YouTube video about Tom?
‘It was a couple of months before the anniversary of Tom’s passing and I was just dreading the date. I just wanted to do something to honour him and to generate awareness of what happens when people don’t have the same rights.’
There are still twenty-five states in the US, in which many hospitals have policies in place that don’t allow non-married partners in to see their stricken loved ones, regardless of legal documentation that prove your power of attorney or papers that verify the implied consent from your partner to be involved in the decision-making process should you become ill.
Recently Janice Langbebn and her three children became innocent victims of this discrimination in the saddest way possible when her partner of 17 years, Lisa Pond, became suddenly ill with a brain aneurism whilst on holiday in Florida. Janice and the couples’ children were refused access to Lisa in her last moments because she was told from a social worker at the hospital that Florida is ‘an anti-gay state’.
Lisa died the next day without seeing either her partner or her children, despite legal documents the pair had drawn up to protect themselves in case something like this tragedy were to ever happen.
The problem is that as the current laws stand, regardless of the legal documentation you can try and put in place to assert your rights as a partner, a hospital’s administration, it seems, can overrule those protections. The only legal documentation that carries any weight is a marriage certificate.
Gay marriage is legal in only 16 states at the time of writing this interview, leaving many same-sex partners completely unprotected and just like in Janice’s and Shane’s story the surviving partner is left in the dark about their loved one’s condition or health decisions.
‘(In) a lot of hospitals across the US, and in particular this one, it’s their policy, unless you’re a legal family member they won’t share any information with you,’ Shane says with the sound of deep regret in his voice.
When Shane travelled Indiana to attend Tom’s funeral he received a phone call which alerted him to threats of abuse from some of Tom’s family should he dare to show his face.
The documentary, which was made by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason contains so many photos and footage of the two men happily in love. Six years together provides a lot of footage and pictures – I wonder how it felt for Shane to revisit old photos.
‘It was hard at times going through all the old footage, but at the same time it was healing in a lot of ways. I’m just so grateful that we have as much footage as we do have. It’s a little embarrassing on one level that we have so much, but I think it’s part of our generation.’
Does he still video diary anymore?
‘I don’t, I think it’d be too bizarre. One of the reasons I did a video diary was as an outlet for me, it made me feel connected to Tom in a way.
‘It started back in High School as a way to feel like I wasn’t burdening anyone.
‘Sometimes it feels like people know me better than I know myself, because I’ve put myself out there.’
What does he want the documentary to achieve?
‘The main goal is to open people’s hearts and minds, and I believe film has the power to do that, more than a lot of other things.
‘I felt a lot of pressure of having to be an expert, that I had to have knowledge of the history of the equal rights movement, now I realise that we are all kind of activists in our way. By just sharing our stories that’s a form of activism. I’ve embraced that and I’m proud of it. I hope that it shows it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you have a voice you can help people.’
One of the burning questions that people I’ve spoken to about Shane’s story ask the same thing, have Tom’s parents been in touch since the ‘It Could Happen To You’ video or the filming of Bridegroom; with a sigh of sadness Shane says,
‘No I haven’t heard from them, and we reached out to them quite a few times in the making of the documentary and unfortunately they didn’t respond. There are members of his family that do support me and Tom and this film, it’s just unfortunate that no one from his family was able to participate.’
I wondered what Shane thinks Tom’s reaction would be about the way in which Shane’s been treated by his family?
‘Overall with everything that has happened I think Tom would be disappointed in them. I don’t think he’d want people to be attacking them or harassing them.
‘I wanted to try and make it clear that it’s about the bigger picture and not just about his parents. I want people to walk away feeling inspired and wanting to live their life more honestly and not just focus on Tom’s parents.’
Towards the end of the documentary a film crew travels with Shane to Tom’s grave, where Shane discovers that Tom’s parents have made every attempt to cut Shane out of the picture altogether. They’ve bought a family plot, with space for his mother on one side and his father on the other.
‘It was very upsetting to get to the gravesite to see that even in death his parents have prevented me from ever being with him. They’re on each side of him. There’s no way I can ever be buried next to him, but I realised that’s not where Tom is. It’s just his body.
With the premiere of the film and worldwide release, I ask whether Shane finds it hard to talk about Tom all the time.
‘A lot of people think it might be hard to continuously talk about him, but I’d much rather talk about him and share him with people than not talk about him. I love the idea that people get to see such an amazing human being who inspired me and is now inspiring a lot of other people. It feels good to talk about him.’
‘Yes! I have to say, that for most of my life I was ashamed of being gay. A lot of times it prevented me from loving Tom as much as I should have or wanted to.
‘I would have been able to love him without being ashamed and to show that we are in love and we are a couple, who want to spend the rest of our lives together. ∎© IMAGES Supplied by Netflix
You can watch Bridegroom on Netflix or order from Amazon
The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.