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Three years gone but never forgotten: a tribute to a lost love, and a pledge for equality

It was a Saturday like any other.

Usually he woke up first, but that morning I woke up before him. I woke up next to him, the love of my life, just as I had almost every other morning throughout the six years we had been together.

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 in the greater scheme of things.

I showered. He left. We never said goodbye.

We eventually made up, via text, but I never got to tell him to his face that I was sorry. I never got to look into his eyes and tell him I loved him. Because just a few hours later he died.

Three years ago today, the world and I lost Thomas Lee Bridegroom. Tom loved me like no one ever had. He taught me to love myself and reminded me every day that I was worthy of my own love and the love of others. He was a remarkable human being, and his absence has been felt each and every day of these past three years.

Two years ago today, on the one-year anniversary of Tom's death, I shared my story, our story, on YouTube:

Never could I have predicted how much my life would change after posting that video. I had no idea that it would go viral and reach millions of viewers around the world within just a few days. I couldn't have imagined that my story would resonate with so many people and eventually be turned into a feature-length documentary.

People said it couldn't be done. Distributors said there wouldn't be a market for a gay love story. But over 6,000 people from around the world disagreed and helped Bridegroom became the most-funded film project in the history of crowd funding. Support even came from notable LGBTQ figures and straight allies, people like Neil Patrick Harris, Sara Gilbert, and Ricki Lake, to name only a few. Even George Takei, a personal hero of mine and a prominent social rights activist, shared my story. Without his help, none of it would have been possible, and I will forever be grateful to him and his husband Brad for their ongoing support and friendship.

We chose to call the film "Bridegroom" both to honor Tom's last name and to remind people of the pressing social and political issue at stake: marriage equality. It was an issue that Tom and I never addressed when he was alive and thus suffered from greatly after his death.

I never imagined that anyone would care about what I have to say. I am no expert on any level. I'm just one person with one voice and one story, but I've learned that by using my voice and sharing my story I can provide hope, open hearts, and save lives. Staying silent and living with shame never helped me, and it doesn't help anyone now.

To the thousands of you from all over the world who have written to me and shared your stories, thank you. The stories of you being kicked out of your home or beaten up, of feeling like you can't speak out in your hometown or share your life openly and honestly with your friends and family, have broken my heart and encouraged me to keep fighting. You all give me strength and courage on my darkest days; together, through sharing our stories and speaking out for what's right, we will change the world.

Tom died before marriage equality was legalized in California, but I will continue to honor him and the thousands of other people who either died before they were granted equal rights or died fighting to gain those rights. Join me today in spreading awareness and paying tribute to these individuals. I encourage you to make a video or write a post about someone who inspires you, someone you love, or your own fight for equality. You never know who you might be able to reach. Use the hashtag #TapTapTap (Tom's and my secret code for "I love you") to connect with others and keep the conversation going.

There has been so much progress made in the gay rights movement over the past couple of years, thanks to the incredibly brave LGBTQ community and its supportive allies. There is still much to be done, however, not only in the United States but around the globe. In dozens of countries it is still illegal to be gay, and countless people fall victim to harassment, beatings, imprisonment, and worse. Today, let us celebrate how far we've come but take note of the distance we have yet to go. Please, make your own video, write to your representatives in your statehouse and the U.S. Congress, join an organization, or do whatever you feel is a step toward equality for all.

This week I grieve my loss, but I also celebrate the man who inspired me in so many ways. I still struggle with pain and sadness over Tom's passing, but I am overjoyed knowing that my story has instilled courage and hope in others. This tragic loss, a loss I still feel in every bone, every muscle, every fiber of my being, is educating and helping others, something I know Tom would be -- is -- proud of.

Tap, tap, tap.


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(Editor's note: This post was originally published on SDGLN media partner HuffPost Gay Voices. To read SDGLN Editor in Chief Ken Williams's interview titled: Shane Bitney Crone: Life after "Bridegroom," click HERE.)