Knox, a nondescript town located in the northwest corner of the state in Starke County, Indiana with a population of 3704 souls became the focal point in hard lesson of life for me. Knox is well represented with churches, primarily Protestant denominations including Pentecostal, Baptist and various semi-independent Evangelical sects. While Knox is well outside the Bible Belt, the religious culture is very much like that you will find there. This is particularly so with regard to attitudes toward homosexuality. Generally speaking, it is a religious culture in which homosexuality is neither accepted nor tolerated. You may be wondering how it is that I came to know about and am so interested in Knox, Indiana and its religious culture. The reason, in short, is that Knox is the birthplace of Thomas Lee Bridegroom, a young gay man whose life and untimely death I learned of in a youtube video published by his grieving partner Shane Bitney Crone. It could happen to you is the video Shane published in memory of his partner Thomas Lee Bridegroom.
The video came to my attention when George Takei posted the link on his facebook page. The impact on me upon viewing the video was immediate and profound. That I was so deeply affected by the story of these two young men, strangers to me, really took me by surprise. While I am not without feeling, I am not one who wears his heart on his sleeve. I am confronted with reports of the personal tragedies of strangers and even those close to me and absorb the news calmly and dispassionately. I offer compassion and sympathy where appropriate. I am not one who joins in public displays of grief or has need of a grief counselor when tragedy strikes people I do not know.
The video tells the story of two young gay men, Shane Bitney Crone and Thomas Lee Bridegroom, both of whom came from Christian families in small towns in the United States, Knox, Indiana and Kalispell, Montana. They met in Los Angeles, California where they had gone seeking their fortune in the entertainment industry. They fell in love and set up household together. Really, this is not an unusual event in the Western world in the 21st century. However, one detail not mentioned in the video, but that Shane since related, was that they felt the need to conceal the true nature of their relationship. When they started out as a couple they rented a two bedroom apartment and kept up the appearance they were friends sharing accommodation. That they felt the need to do this in the present day was shocking to me. Attitudes toward homosexuality have changed a great deal in my lifetime. It is no longer a crime to be gay. There are gay community centres, gay youth groups, gay clubs on college and university campuses. My impression was that young gay people have it really good in the present. As it turns out I was sorely mistaken. If you have viewed the video you know how this story plays out. When Thomas Lee Bridegroom came out to his family back in Knox, they were not happy and did not accept that he was gay. He continued his career in Los Angeles living and loving his partner Shane. They were together for six years before he died in a tragic accident on May 7, 2011.
At the time of his death gay couples could not marry in the state of California. As they were both in their 20s at the time it had not occurred to them to have wills or take measures to protect themselves as a couple. Despite the fact that he had established himself in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, started a business with his partner Shane with whom he also owned a home, Thomas Lee Bridegroom’s family claimed his body, his assets and belongings, took them back to Knox, Indiana and ostracized his grieving partner. In doing so, I can only speculate that they wanted to bury the truth. Their son was gay. He lived with a man he intended to marry one day. In this way they likely thought in so coldly and callously perpetrating this iniquity they could erase the shame this brought in their close knit religious culture. However, fortune would have another outcome.
Following the publication of the video, the television producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason contacted Shane and together they embarked on a project, to produce a feature length documentary film telling the story of Thomas Lee Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone. The movie is due for release very soon I understand. Today, Valentine’s Day 2013, Shane Bitney Crone is to publish a video on his youtube channel www.YouTube.com/ShaneBitneyCrone in anticipation of the release. I am looking forward to watching the movie once it is out, but most certainly will need to bring a box of tissues with me when I go see it.
Finally, in writing these words, I can honestly say I wish I had never heard of Thomas Lee Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone. I wish Thomas Lee Bridegroom had not died in that tragic accident, that the two of them were enjoying the life they should have had together and been able to marry one day. Sadly, this is not the case, but the fact that his grieving partner Shane found the strength of character to tell their story, show the world the injustice they endured and why it is so important for gay couples that they have the right to marry makes me feel better. It gave me a good swift kick in my complacency too. Since learning of their story, Mika and I have taken the necessary measures to ensure that our financial and legal affairs are in order in the event that one of us becomes ill or dies. This is sound advice for all couples, gay and straight. It has also made me painfully aware that gay couples are still in a very vulnerable position under existing law and inspired me to speak out. What happened to Thomas Lee Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone was appalling and should never happen to anyone.
Posted by Geoffrey