Bridegroom is a documentary film about the relationship between two gay men: Shane Bitney Crone and Thomas Bridegroom. The film introduces us to both men, explains their childhoods, and examines the romance that blossoms followed by a tragedy that later befalls that romance. It is a film about love, forgiveness, acceptance of self and acceptance of others. The need for marriage equality in America and the LGBT community’s ongoing fight against injustice is excellently highlighted in the film.
A Project Forged with Love:
This documentary’s very existence is a testament to the power of love. In May 2012, Shane Bitney Crone created and posted a video titled “It Could Happen to You” on his YouTube page. This powerful, less than 11-minute video introduced the world to Shane and his boyfriend Tom. Through text, music, still photographs and home video clips, Shane displayed the life and love the couple had experienced together.
The video informed that on May 7th, 2011 Tom suffered a tragic, accidental fall from a building’s rooftop and was killed. Shane’s video depicted not only the heartbreak he suffered from this tragic loss, but also, in the aftermath, Tom’s parents’ continued rejection of the gay couple’s love and their eventual refusal to include Shane in Tom’s funeral. All of this helped to highlight an issue that has unfortunately been plaguing gay couples for decades: the lack of legal rights for LGBT couples for which marriage is not an option. Shane’s video called for all its viewers to fight for marriage equality, tolerance and love.
This YouTube video, with its heartbreaking and truthful message, went viral, and as the result of a hugely successful kickstarter.com campaign, the love story of Tom and Shane was amazingly made into a feature length film directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomas. In an act of strange, universal alignment, the resulting 80-minute documentary was adorned with Tom’s last name as its title, which ironically brought further focus to the idea of gay marriage and equality: Bridegroom.
In any film, the audience is introduced to characters that they will hopefully relate to and recognize themselves in. In Bridegroom, the ‘character’ of Shane is the more wounded and frightened of the eventual couple. Shane suspected he was gay at a young age and, because of this realization, was prone to panic attacks throughout his childhood. Though Shane’s family was always very loving towards him, he grew up in a small, Montana town that encouraged a manly, ‘cowboy way’ ideal and was not very welcoming of homosexuals. Shane existed as somewhat of an outsider. In the documentary, Shane explains that the one thing he really wanted was to have someone he could talk and relate to and who would accept him for being himself.
Tom grew up in Knox, Indiana and, unlike Shane, is presented to the viewer entirely in flashbacks and second hand accounts from friends and loved ones (Tom’s parents wanted nothing to do with this documentary). The character of Tom is confidant, always singing and dancing and always the center of attention. In high school and college he was described as a leader in sports and at the top of his class academically. His friends describe him as popular and charismatic. One friend even describes Tom as ‘magic’. Perhaps most importantly Tom was described as all-inclusive and non-judgmental of others. He respected and admired others for their differences and loved everyone for who they were.
Tom came from a simple blue-collar family. His father was described, as very stern, the ideal of manhood and masculinity. Tom did not connect well with his father, a situation that worsened as he grew up and become more of who he really was. Tom’s mother was described as having loved her son deeply, even taking a job as a janitor so that Tom could attend Colbert, a prestigious military academy, for high school. But as Tom began coming out to close friends of his in high school, he seemed worried that his conservative, religious family would reject him. One friend stated, “Tom was worried that his dad would literally kill him if he knew he was gay”.
Tap, Tap, Tap:
Bridegroom raises the issue of gay men not ‘living out loud’. This stifling of our love and passion for one another seems to be forcing us to subdue who we really are and to place the comfort level of others before our own.
For example, while Tom had no problem with showing affection in public, Shane shied away from it. But they loved each other too much to not show each other any signal of their love in public. Shane explained,
“I never really wanted to say I love you in front of friends or anyone, so we developed this little code. Whether at like dinner or a party one of us would find a way to tap the table three times just to say I love you. So, that became a very special sound for both of us.”
Shane later states that, as he stood over Tom’s dead body, he did one final tap, tap, tap as he said goodbye. In the aftermath of Tom’s death, Shane is filled with regret for having not been more affectionate with Tom in public while he was still alive. Thus raising the question, “at the end of your life is it more important to remember that you made straight people comfortable by your not acting openly gay or that you lived a life that made yourself comfortable in how you acted?”
Spotlight on Injustice: Marriage Inequality in the United States:
After Tom’s death, Shane was not initially allowed to see his body. The hospital staff told Shane that non-family members could not see the body until Tom’s parents arrived. Shane and Tom had been together for 6 years. They lived together, owned a dog together, ran a business together and yet, without being married, had no legal connection to one another. Though the nurses did eventually show Shane kindness and let him see Tom one final time, Shane’s lack of legal rights was brilliantly highlighted.
This legal lacking continued when Tom’s mother visited California to bring Tom’s body home to Indiana. Shane had no say in any decisions related to Tom’s belongings and burial, and after it was all said and done, Shane was not invited to Tom’s funeral and even threatened by one of Tom’s relatives to stay way from the service.
It is so tragic, that even in the face of such a tragedy, people will draw imaginary lines in the sand to separate themselves from those who are different from them. It’s such a shame that even with death and mortality staring us right in the face, segregation and hate can still be so prevalent.
Still days after watching Bridegroom I found my mind continuously returning to two thoughts. First, I kept thinking how sad I was for Shane’s loss of love. My heart broke for him because he no longer had Tom and I found myself longing for the kind of love Tom and Shane had shared. Second, I kept thinking of how disgusting I found Tom’s parents to be. The way they had treated both Tom and Shane turned my stomach with distaste. Did they even deserve to have such a beautiful son in the first place? Do they feel ashamed now that it is all over? And I found myself wondering if either of them had watched the documentary since its release. I wonder if either of them realizes that universally they have become symbols of bigotry and intolerance. I am so thankful that they are not my parents.
Perhaps Shane summed up Tom’s parents’ injustice best when he said,
“I guess I’ll never understand why the ones who are supposed to love him the most, fight the hardest to keep him from being who he was. Maybe the greatest thing about Tom is how much he loved them anyway.”
And at this point Bridegroom encourages forgiveness. The film hints at the importance of forgiving those who do us wrong or who do not accept us for who we are. Tom is said time and time again to have been a forgiving person. And so I choose not to be discouraged by Tom’s parents’ hate, but encouraged by Shane’s love. As I stated earlier, the very fact that this film exists shows that love prevails and concurs over hate. No one can take our love away from us. No one.
If you are interested in learning more about this real life love story, here are some related links…
Bridegroom‘s IMDB Page
An article written only a week after Tom’s death discussing him and the accident
Interview with Shane at Collider.com
Worst Parents in the World? – article discussing Tom’s parents