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
I lived in that awful town from the age of 6 to 16. It was horrible! If you were different in any way you were bullied and tormented. I fell in that category. Hateful people.
I have accidentally watched Shane and Tom’s story on Youtube and was compelled to pursue a new mission in life in helping and guiding gays about how to live a happy and contented life as a gay-like myself who had been accepted very much by the organization I’m serving for more than 14 years.
Thank-you for your comment, I understand how you feel. I was moved by their story too. I think it is commendable that you are seeking to help gay people accept who they are and enjoy life. Everyone has the right to be happy and accepted, both gay and straight. Cheers. Geoffrey & Mika.
You shared a lot of yourself in writing this, and I’m sure it will bring others closer to you. We share your love and compassion.
When Geoffery Wale introduced me to the video, “It Could Happen to You,” I couldn’t help but tears just rolled out of my eyes. I just couldn’t understand how much hate a family, but above all, a mother could hold in her heart for her son. It disgusted me that she was worried about her sons’ bank accounts when she wasn’t even part of his life. As a person who once didn’t really believe in marriage, and especially gay marriage, it impacted me in such a way that I finally understand why gay marriage as well as all marriage is important. Not just because you need to prove or celebrate an already powerful and beautiful bond between two people, but because you want to protect the one that is to stay behind. One will usually stay behind.
As a woman, I can completely relate to the part where homosexuals are not treated as equals. I am a straight woman and I consider myself quite educated and professional, when I have to be. Yet, not one day goes by where I don’t feel the disadvantage of being a female. Society, loves to lie to its citizens and pretend that men and women stand on equal ground, but we all know this is false. A woman needs to work a hell of a lot harder to attain what a man can easily attain with just a simple smile. The same, or perhaps even more so, with homosexual individuals as the play field is not even, at least not yet.
Having a gay best friend for over twenty years taught me that he lived in a world full of fear and that I would never completely understand it. He always told me that I was special and that most people were not like me. I honestly never understood him. He was always happy, with a big smile on his face, and rarely complained of the worldly demands. However, there were times when he used our friendship to cover up his homosexuality. Many times I played being his girlfriend. Not once, did I question it back then, but now I realize that it was because people in general could not accept him for who he was.
As for the movie that Shane Bitney Crone is publishing, not only I’m I going to go see it, but so are my husband, and my three teenage children. It is of up most importance that we educate not just homosexuals, but the entire world on how to be more humane. It’s true all humans seek love and acceptance. Why are we so harsh on one another? Honestly, I can’t answer that. All I know is that God loves us all the same. Shane, is a hero in my eyes and although, all of the ordeal that he has been through saddens me greatly, I’m very proud of him for telling his story. It really takes a lot to stand up to such a cruel world. Shane will not stand alone! I will stand by him and so will many wonderful people I know. Until, homosexual marriage is common, and homosexuality is viewed as normal, you will have my support.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. 🙂
I enjoyed reading about this, just I as enjoyed about reading every story about this since it first hit the presses. I’m still unfortunately largely unmoved: it’s hard to encourage emotion for someone I never knew before and never would if the tragedy did not occur. Of course I hesistate to call it a tragedy, more of a murder. Neither family killed their son but as far as they were concerned they were dead to them.
It would concern me slightly that it would take something like this for people to realize that they should probably be protecting their relationship, like how it takes a close family member to die of lung cancer to stop smoking. Lessons like these should be pretty obvious in my opinion.
Actually Shane’s family greeted the coming out of their son and his partner Tom happily, accepting their relationship and welcoming Tom into the family. It is good to remember that some who practice Christianity are quite charitable and do not condemn gay people for falling in love and forming a loving and long term relationship.