It could happen to you…
by Megan Smith
This summer, Proposition 8 was officially wiped from the books, marriage equality returned to California, and LGBT couples rejoiced. This was the day that California resident Shane Bitney Crone had been waiting for. But for he and his partner of six years, Tom Bridegroom, this day came about two years too late.
While having a photo shoot with the couple’s best friend on May 7, 2011, Tom accidentally fell off the roof of an apartment building and died in the hospital a few hours later. He was twenty-nine. Bridegroom, directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, documents Shane and Tom’s lives together before Tom’s death and showcases Shane’s experiences following the loss of his partner. The documentary is a personal testimony as to why marriage equality is on the forefront of the LGBT rights movement.
Tom and Shane had similar upbringings in separate, but equally small towns where being gay wasn’t readily accepted. Shane suffered from extreme anxiety resulting from this social stigma. Tom grew up in a hyper-masculine family and attended military school before college. Shane describes how Tom could play any role required of him—the masculine son, the liberal arts college student, the talented singer—but was afraid his father would kill him if he learned the truth about his sexuality.
The two eventually moved to Los Angeles, where they met through mutual friends. From there, Shane and Tom were inseparable. “They’re the kind of couple that makes you believe in love,” one of Tom’s friends says in the film. The two vowed to get married once marriage equality returned to California.
After Tom’s fall, Shane waited frantically at the hospital, but was not allowed to see Tom since he wasn’t “family.” It was only after he passed away that a nurse took sympathy on Shane and allowed him to view Tom’s body.
Tom’s parents, who were never overly supportive, but seemingly tolerant of the couple’s relationship, vowed to keep Shane and his friends updated with the details of Tom’s funeral. After they left Lost Angeles, however, Shane never heard from them again. He later received notice that he was not welcome at the funeral and would be attacked if he attempted to attend. It was as if Shane never existed, and because the two were not legally married, he had no rights or protections.
On the one-year anniversary of Tom’s death, Shane took to YouTube to share a tear-jerking video entitled “It Could Happen to You,” which details the couple’s story. The video went viral, has over four million views, and was the basis for the full-length Bridegroom. The comment section is filled with support, similarly tragic tales, and stories of hope. “Shane, Thank you so much for helping me find me,” one comment reads. “A week ago I was a Christian who lived a reclusive life and was suppressing my sexual orientation. Even worse, I opposed gay marriage. Today I lay here a changed man. A changed man who is proud to be both gay and a Christian. It’s my hope that I can someday have a life as full of love as Tom’s was. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You helped me save my life!”
As marriage equality is won in more and more states, Bridegroom reminds us to keep the momentum high and to never give up the fight. Shane’s ability to turn tragedy and pain into activism is admirable to say the least. “For those out there who do not think they know someone who’s been deeply hurt by laws that prevent people from marrying the ones they love, well, now you do,” Shane says in a Huffington Post article announcing the film. “My name is Shane Bitney Crone.”
Available from Virgil Films (virgilfilmsent.com).