October 11, 2015


In Ireland, like America, there are people who fetishize marriage. They believe, like Helen Lovejoy, that we should be thinking of the children who are better off with their birth parents. But this delusion, that a family is made from flesh and blood, rather than heart and soul, has had devastating effects that reach far beyond the adoption issue.

Shane Bitney Crone documented his own heartache in ‘Bridegroom’ a documentary which has its Irish premiere at the Liberties Festival on Wednesday 16th of July. It’s the first LGBT event to be programmed in the 44 year history of the festival.

“People wonder why gay people keep wanting more civil rights,” he tells INSIDER, via phone from New York. “I wanted to tell my story to make something positive out of a horrible situation, but also to get people to have the discussions no one wants to have. Our mortgage, our business, the six years we loved each other, in spite of all of that, legally, I was just Tom Bridegroom’s roommate.”

They were both from Small Town USA. Both had escaped the claustrophobia of their origins for the City of Angels. Still, despite the bright lights, they both resided in the closet.

A chance meeting in a bowling alley, lead to another meeting, which was less by chance and slowly they opened their doors to each other, if not the world.

”He is my first, my only,” Shane says. “I’d never had a boyfriend before Tom, never kissed a guy, never been on a date.” He made the typical concession closeted gays make -the gay version of running before you can strut, confessing to friends that he ‘might’ like boys. But he’d never acted on it. In Tom he found someone in whom he could confide, whose background gave him an understanding of the shame and anxiety that comes before you’re out. And boy, was there lots of that.

“When I watched the movie Philadelphia, I knew Tom Hanks was attracted to another guy. They were in a relationship and as a result , he got sick and died. It really impacted me and started years of anxiety and depression. I thought I was going to end up dead.”

In a world where ‘Looking’ and ‘Modern Family’ were yet to exist, Shane had no positive role models in popular entertainment to look up to.

“I know that this is cheesy, but even watching straight romantic comedys, I connected to the love on a human level. Even though there were moments where I definitely didn’t want to be alive, thinking that someone could love me was enough to keep me going.”

Tom was his person. They travelled a lot, and when they weren’t flying to the four corners of the world, they were flying on the crest of their imaginations, to all the places left to discover. They dined out regularly and loved music, so much so that they set up a company to help promote musicians. Country was embedded in them and Garth Brooks was a favourite. “The Dance was our song,” he tells me, “and we had hoped to use his recording in the documentary. But his team wouldn’t give us the rights, which is disappointing, as you never know the reasoning. But I still love the music.”

Rows, when they happened, were over how open they were going to be about their relationship. Like the telltale heart, the fact that they were hiding their love from their parents beat beneath the floorboards of their happiness. Shane’s family took it well. Why couldn’t Tom take the same leap?

“He tried to tell me that it wouldn’t go the way that I thought that it would. I had met his mom before. I really still felt she was going to be OK with it, that she had known and figured it out.”

When Tom finally came out to his parents at Christmas, his father pulled a gun on him. “He physically attacked Tom. And his mother was so angry. She yelled abuse down the phone at me. They accused me of turning him gay. She was furious that Tom hadn’t told her sooner, so they could have gotten him medical help. I couldn’t believe that had happened. I was the one who had encouraged him to come out.”

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Shane and Tom adopted a puppy. They developed a secret code -three taps on a table, to tell the other they loved them in public. And two Christmases later, Tom gave Shane a promise ring. “We could have become domestic partners but that’s like a second class version of being married.” In the note accompanying the ring Tom predicted that 2011 would change their lives forever.

He was right.

Six months later, he was dead.

”It was a Saturday like any other,” Shane wrote in the Huffington Post. “Usually he woke up first, but that morning I woke up before him. We started our normal routine. We had breakfast and did a workout. We got in a small argument, like every couple is prone to do, over something insignificant. I showered. He left. We never said goodbye.”

Photographing a friend on an LA rooftop Tom took a step in the wrong direction and fell four stories to his death. Not legally recognised as family Shane wasn’t allowed in to say that goodbye. “I have been conditioned to believe that I wasn’t allowed to see him, so it’s not something I fought with them over. I rang his parents to let them know what had happened and I made sure that the ER staff updated them regularly.”

When Tom passed, a friend’s persistence wore down a nurse, who put her job on the line to let him one last time. With three final taps Shane said farewell to Tom.

He never saw him again.

“It felt like everything was going to be OK,” he says. “His mum told me she was flying out that night and when she arrived in the morning I went to get her at the airport.

“But things started getting weird at our home. She started asking questions about the bank account. She suggested that I pay for the funeral and for Tom’s remains to be transported back to Indiana, even though he didn’t consider Indiana to be his home. I tried to be respectful to the point that she was coming to California on Mothers Day to see her dead son.”

Shane then received a phone call from a concerned relative of Tom’s. “They told me that Tom’s uncle and father would attack me if I showed up. My name wasn’t mentioned in the Eulogy, it wasn’t in the obituary.

Many in the gay community have proselytized that Shane should have gone regardless. Should have brought protection. Should have fought for recognition. “This was a man who pulled a gun on his son when he came out to him,” Shane wearily responds. ” If a father can pull a gun on his own son he could easily pull a gun on me.” 

He organised a service in California, Tom’s true home, an event that focused him away from his grief. But the Bridegroom’s weren’t finished punishing him for loving Tom.

“They deactivated his Facebook account. One day it went from Shane Bitney Crone is in a relationship with Tom Bridegroom to me being in a relationship with nothing. For us to take that step, to say openly we were together online, it was a major milestone in us coming to terms with who we were and being proud of it. And for his family to just take it down was very upsetting, as silly as it might sound.”

Ironically, it’s through social media that Shane would successfully reclaim his rightful place in the eyes of those who knew Tom. On the anniversary of his death Shane uploaded a video to YouTube posted titled, ‘It Could Happen To You’, detailing the tragic situation the state of America’s laws had left him in. It has close on 5,000,000 hits and caught the attention of documentary maker Linda Bloodworth-Thomason who made the documentary Bridegroom, which was shown on Opera Winfrey’s OWN network and was introduced at the Tribeca Film Festival by Bill Clinton. “He supported the film because he saw the power in it. That it was a good thing for me to share my story. He said I had to keep doing what I was doing.”

Since uploading the video Shane has become a gay rights activist, something he wasn’t before. “I always thought that marching and fighting for my rights was something somebody else would do for me. But this has finally allowed me to stand up for myself and not be ashamed of who I am.” He is in talks with Facebook to set up precautions so what happened to Tom’s Facebook page wont happen to other people who suffer such a loss. “But I try not to get wrapped up in the politics. Its about being human, to experience love. Which is what makes life worth living.

Bridegroom.  A Love Story. Unequaled. Wednesday 16 July 2014 | Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council Civic Offices, Doors Open @ 6.30pm followed by Q&A with Shane Bitney Crone. Tickets are free but must be reserved owing to limited availability on:  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank”


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