If Shane Bitney Crone had his druthers, he would not be a poster boy for equal rights for loving LGBT couples and against homophobia.
If he had his druthers, he and Tom Bridegroom, the love of his life, would be living happily forever. But cruel fate would have other plans for Shane, far from the fairy tale life he enjoyed with Tom in Los Angeles.
Shane's story of a tender love affair shattered by an unexpected tragedy became a YouTube sensation in 2012 when he released a very personal video he titled "It Could Happen To You."
In his 10-minute video, Shane tearfully shares his heart-wrenching story of how unmarried gay couples are treated unfairly and unequally when one of the partners dies without legal protections in place. For many young couples in their 20s, who feel invincible at that age, signing an iron-clad will is the last thing on their minds. But what happened to Shane -- he was banished from attending the funeral of Tom, who fell off a roof to his death during a photo shoot in May 2011 -- remains a cautionary tale for our time. To this day, Tom's family continues to shun Shane and erroneously blames him for "turning" their son gay.
Shane's story also turned into an award-winning documentary, "Bridegroom," which has played the film festival circuit this year to great acclaim. The documentary, made by celebrated director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason ("Designing Women"), made its TV debut on the Oprah Winfrey Network in late October. "Bridegroom" comes out on DVD today, and with that Shane's cathartic journey of discovery and healing is nearing an end.
How Shane's life has changed
"I've met so many wonderful people," Shane said, describing the past eight months of non-stop promotions and festivals. "I didn't realize how many people have gone through what I went through."
Shane said it was "eye-opening" to him to hear the horror stories of generations older than his of LGBT "widows" and "widowers" who lost everything when their same-gender partners suddenly died and their homophobic families swooped in and took everything away from them. "People lost their homes and their hard-earned possessions," he said.
"The older generations I've heard from -- older gay men especially -- told me of the steps they should have taken to protect themselves," he said, adding that is one of the main points of the documentary.
Audiences are so moved by the documentary that they cry, and many people ask if they can hug Shane after meeting him. "I'm all about the hugs," Shane laughed.
The death of his beloved, the unexpected viral hit of the YouTube video in which he shares his grief, and the making of the documentary have had its profound impact on Shane.
"My life has changed completely," Shane said. "It's not about me, or Tom, really. It's about all the people who have gone through this experience."
He is grateful to see that "Bridegroom" is affecting viewers as well. "Teens say I give them hope. ... Straight men say they finally 'get it' that two men can be capable of sharing love with each other. ... Younger people say the documentary gives them hope that one day they can fall in love and hope that things do get better."
DVD of "Bridegroom" comes out
Today's release of the "Bridegroom" DVD feels "kinda like a final step," Shane said. The documentary got the blessing of former President Bill Clinton, and Shane got to meet the world leader at the New York opening.
Shane is not sure what his next move will be, but he wants the documentary to gain a wider audience and he expects to make appearances at high schools and colleges across the U.S.
"It's really hard to change hearts and minds" of people who are unwilling to delve into a hot-button issue like LGBT equality, Shane said, "but I have a responsibility to try."
He hopes fans of "Bridegroom" will share the DVD with their parents, with "people who are sitting on the fence" on equality issues, or friends and neighbors who made need a little persuasion.
Sharing his story with strangers has been an ongoing challenge, since it takes Shane out of his comfort zone. Public speaking is not his strong suit, he said. "But it has been rewarding on so many levels ... to meet people face to face has been the most rewarding."
Shane said his personal life has been on hold since Tom's death. He admits that the thought of dating again made him "nauseous" for the longest time, but now he is looking forward. "I think Tom would want me to be happy and not to be alone," Shane said, adding that he continues to work on loving himself.
If he could send out an email to the world, Shane would say this:
"I would want to say that love is love, loss is loss, and at the end of the day everybody deserves to be happy and to be loved."
Shane to interact with fans on Reddit on Wednesday afternoon
Shane will participate in an "Ask Me Anything" interview on Reddit tomorrow at 4 pm PT or 7 pm ET. Anyone with a Reddit account can interact with Shane. The link to the chat will go live about 20 minutes before 4 and Shane will post the link on his Twitter account. Follow @ShaneBitney so you don't miss out!
Win a free DVD of "Bridegroom"
The first two people to contact me by email at [email protected] will win a free DVD of "Bridegroom." Employees or affiliates of GLBTNN, SDGLN, SD PIX or Hale Media are not eligible to enter the contest. I will return your email to notify the two winners. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The contest winners have been identified. They are Alonzo Munoz of San Diego and Antonia Garcia of Los Angeles.]
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Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 855-445-2866, ext. 713.