Tom and Shane quickly fell in love and began building a life together in Los Angeles. Over the next six years, Tom and Shane traveled the world and together adopted a dog, bought a house and started their own business. And while Shane’s family accepted Tom right into their group like he was one of their own, Tom’s family refused to accept that their son was gay and blamed Shane for what they saw as an illness. Tragically on May 7, 2011, Tom was killed in an accident after falling four stories off a Los Angeles building. Because Tom and Shane were not recognized by the state as being legally married, Tom’s family came to retrieve their son’s body to be buried in Indiana and threatened Shane should he attempt to attend the funeral.
In the year following his partner’s death, Shane created numerous videos chronicling his memories of the love he and Tom shared. But it was the video “It Could Happen To You” recorded on the one year anniversary of Tom’s death that caught the attention of filmmaker Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and inspired the creation of the award-winning documentary “Bridegroom.” Introduced by Bill Clinton at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Bridegroom” has given a personal story to the controversial issue of marriage equality and boiled it down to the simple message: love is love. Talking with NMR, Shane talks about how one YouTube video changed his life and why the Supreme Court ruling is bittersweet.
In the about section on your YouTube channel, you mention that you wanted your story to change the minds and the hearts of other people, and so I was wondering why you choose to use YouTube to do that?
Well I mean the one thing that’s amazing about YouTube is its ability to reach people in a way that it isn’t really possible on other platforms. For people who don’t necessarily like reading blogs, they like watching videos, and I feel like a lot of younger people, they’re much more engaged with video, but I just felt like YouTube was the perfect platform for me to tell our story.
What has it been like for you to be a prominent gay YouTuber?
For most of my life I was pretty much ashamed of being gay and my partner and I for almost 75 percent of our relationship hid the fact that we were a couple. So for me to tell the world and show the world that I’m gay and I’m in a relationship, it was huge for me and really big step in personal growth. And it’s just an honor that through YouTube, I have this outlet to be free and be who I am and to be proud of who I am. It’s a pretty incredible thing.
And your documentary “Bridegroom” has received so many amazing reviews and congratulations. What has been your journey with that?
Who would have thought that by posting a YouTube video that they would be seen by so many people, especially directors? When I was approached by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason who saw the YouTube video and inspired her to want to make a film, it was just mind-blowing, so then to make the film and have the support which originated from the YouTube community which lead to an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign, to then premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, it was just — it’s really been a surreal experience, but it’s been like a healing process for me as well. We sent President Clinton a screener of the film, and he was so moved by the story that he asked to introduce it at the Tribeca Film Festival and so many things like that have happened I almost have to pinch myself and go like, “What? Is this real?”
I won’t lie — I watched parts of the documentary earlier and just cried in the office. It was such a touching story.
Well thank you. That’s one thing with the YouTube video. I mean it is really long, so I have a lot of friends who were trying to tell me that I need to cut it way down, but for me it was like I need to make this for myself and I need to tell as much of the story as I can, but I still never expected it to resonate with people like it has, and people that aren’t very emotional, they reach out to me and say that it touched them on such a deep level and for them to cry watching a love story about a gay couple was just something they didn’t think that they will ever do. It’s pretty neat that people connect with it.
Has it been a healing experience for you, or have there been times when it’s just been really hard to be constantly watching this movie?
At first it was quite hard, especially making the film and being in the edit room and watching the video, ‘cause for the most part, the year following my partner’s accident, I really didn’t watch a lot of the video clips just because it made me really sad. But as time went on, it became something that I was happy and proud of him and us by watching the clips, so of course those days that it’s hard or I’ll be at screenings and I can’t sit in there ‘cause I’m just so overwhelmed with emotion, but for the most part I have a positive experience when I’m watching the footage.
It was such a momentous day with the Supreme Court ruling — what does the ruling in favor of marriage equality personally mean to you?
Yeah I mean I’ve been for a few days. I’ve been at the Supreme Court everyday waiting, and so today, I mean there are so many people you’re just surrounded by everyone singing and laughing and so hopefully — and everyone was looking at their flip phones following the Twitter feeds to keep updated, and when they announced the ruling, it was just something that really did leave me speechless, and it’s a lot of things. I’m so happy; this is a huge step in the right direction, but at the same time it’s bittersweet for me because Tom and I, we dreamed of getting married, and it wasn’t possible but now it is. So but the same time I feel so happy that things went the way that they did today.
Why did you decide to fly out to D.C. to be there for the Supreme Court ruling?
I never ever considered myself an activist, and I never thought that anyone was really listening to what I had to say, so for me I was like this is a moment in history that I want to support and I need to stand up for this, and so I really felt the need to be here and to really show my support. And a lot of people reached out to me from all over the world asking me to kind of be their voice as well, so I feel that I have a responsibility and an opportunity so I really want to be here. I’m glad that I came because this is an experience that I’ll never forget.
Looking forward, what are some of the major things that the LGBT community is now working towards?
You know, like for example, some of the states where marriage equality takes place, you can be fired for being gay. I think it’s 29 states you can be fired for that, so that’s one thing that needs to be addressed and taken care of immediately. I think that and what it sounds like is we’re just going to have to go one state at a time until marriage is possible in every state, so I think that it’s going to be a battle and it’s going to take time but I think that now more than ever it’s apparent that how the majority of American’s support this so it’s just a matter of time.
For you personally, what are you looking towards right now?
I think for me, this entire process of finally finding my voice and finally being proud of who I am so I think for me it’s just an opportunity to grow and to focus on loving myself and standing up for what I believe in. So I think besides from the growth I really want to take this opportunity and to do what I can to help our community whether that’s with marriage equality or preventing LGBT couples from being fired from their jobs for being gay. I’m just going to do whatever I can until we’re all treated equal and not second class.
Do you plan to use YouTube in your activist work?
Yes I think for me I definitely want to do a lot more with YouTube because you can just see the power that it has. I mean you reach people that you would never be able to reach and you learn about peoples’ stories that are just incredible stories, and so I think that it’s definitely a site and an outlet that I want to use to continue to try to help make a difference, and whether that’s just making videos and kind of talking about my journey or videos maybe that I make to feature other peoples’ stories. There are just so many possibilities, so I’m excited to focus on that more.
Follow Shane Biteny Crone:
Bridegroom Website: http://bridegroommovie.com/