Five Minutes With
Shane Bitney Crone; Young Marriage Activist [VIDEO]
Last month, the documentary about Shane Bitney Crone’s first love smashed Kickstarter fundraising records. The documentary is a project of Director/Producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who met Crone at a wedding — and who happened upon a YouTube video Crone made in May called “It Could Happen To You.”
The YouTube video, interwoven with pictures of himself and his long-term partner, Tom Bridegroom, tells the story of Crone’s relationship. It was an apolitical, blissful one: Both young men from small towns, Bridegroom and Crone met each other in Los Angeles and fell in love. They bought a house. There are photos of them standing at Macchu Picchu, the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian Pyramids — all beaming.
Last year, a tragic accident claimed Bridegroom’s life. In the midst of his grief and devastation—at one point Crone recorded himself sobbing, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this,”—Crone found himself shut out of his partner’s remembrance ceremonies. Bridegroom’s family erased him from the memorial service and the Facebook page for their dead son. Crone had not only lost his partner, but the recognition of the life he shared with Bridegroom. Because they couldn’t marry, Crone had no right to access any information about Bridegroom’s death.
On the year anniversary of the tragedy, Crone decided he had to publicize his story. “I need to fight for what’s right… I just don’t know if people will listen,” he says in the video.
They did. The YouTube video went viral, attracted Bloodworth-Thomason’s attention, and they decided to make a Kickstarter-funded documentary, “Bridegroom.” It raked in over $384,000, more than their initial $300,000 goal, and was the highest-grossing project ever funded on Kickstarter.
Campus Progress interviewed Crone by e-mail about his work.
Campus Progress: Could you tell me a little about your decision to finally tell your story, a year after Tom's death? Did it have anything to do with the current political climate around marriage equality?
Crone: I was dreading the anniversary of Tom’s passing. I wanted to do something to honor him and to show what happens when others don’t have equal rights. I hope I inspired everyone to legally be prepared for the unexpected. I spent a year fearing what would happen if I spoke up and shared my story. Finally, I realized that I could do something with this entire experience to make sure Tom’s death wasn’t in vain.
CP: What was your reaction to your video going viral?
Crone: It was incredible when the video started going viral. I never imagined that it would spread as fast as it did. It felt good to have so much support from literally all over the world. Aside from all of the touching words of encouragement, I heard from thousands of people who have gone through similar situations and they thanked me for speaking up for them, as well as myself. It’s very difficult to change the way people view the LGBT community and especially marriage equality, but my YouTube video and our story has gone a long way toward changing the way people view these basic human rights. It gives me hope and strength to continue fighting for equality.
I heard from teenagers who said that watching “It Could Happen To You” gave them the courage to live when their lives seemed hopeless. I never dreamed so many positive things could come just from speaking out. This has truly changed the darkest period of my life into a lighter time.
CP: It looks like you're going to be in the spotlight for a while now, with the development of the documentary...What's it like converting a truly tragic event into a source of change, while simultaneously becoming a public figure?
Crone: When I moved to Los Angeles, I told my family it was because I wanted to be an actor. Soon after arriving, I realized that was actually more of a just an excuse I could give them. I didn’t feel that I could simply say that I wanted to live in a city where I would be more accepted. Tom loved the spotlight. He constantly wanted to make people laugh and smile. For me, having so much attention isn’t anything I ever wanted. However, I am extremely grateful to have this platform and I will do my best to make the most of it. People constantly tell me they are inspired by the way I have attempted to turn such a tragic experience into something that a positive. I am even more inspired by the amount of love and support from people I have never met. It gives me so much hope for the United States and even humanity.
CP: How do you hope the documentary will affect the way people talk about gay rights?
Crone: People kept asking me what they could do to help and become a part of this movement, so I felt utilizing the crowd-funding site Kickstarter was perfect for this documentary. The YouTube video has started to change the way people view equal rights. It goes a long way to proving to everyone that love is love. I am confident that the documentary will have the same impact as the YouTube video, but on a much larger scale. The film is going to show what it was like for Tom and I growing up in small towns and the struggles that came along with all of that. The film will also show the effect Tom’s death has had on both our families. We hope to tell a story that will represent every single person who has ever been ostracized and condemned for being who they are and loving who they love.
CP: What has to change now so that what happened to you doesn't happen again?
Crone: I was just in Amsterdam as an international guest of the political party VVD for their pride festival. The Netherlands was the first country to endorse marriage equality, so it was wonderful being surrounded by so many supportive people. From talking with many of the residents, they find it hard to believe that the United States is so far behind their country. We have come a long way in the U.S., but we still have a long way to go. I believe we will eventually reach a point where everyone has equal rights. I hope sharing my story might make that a reality sooner.
I believe that our generation has the power to make equality a reality. We can raise our children to be accepting and tolerant, safe in the knowledge that it is okay to be who they are and love who they love.
The LGBT community has a lot of power to bring forth change, but we can’t do it alone. We need the straight community to stand with us and show the world that everyone deserves equal rights.
I am telling people firsthand that, although it’s been scary and difficult at times, standing up for myself and the LGBT community has been unbelievably rewarding. People need to support organizations that promote equality and tolerance. Even if you can’t donate money, you can give your time. That can often be more valuable than money.
Things will get better. They have for me. We just have to keep the momentum going.
The progress of Crone’s documentary will be charted at BridegroomMovie.com.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.
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