HRC Blog

YouTube Star Sets Sights on the Silver Screen

This guest post is submitted by Shane Bitney, whose video tribute to Tom Bridegroom went viral in May. Bitney now hopes to turn their story into a feature-length documentary.

Growing up gay in a small Montana town, where most people drove pickup trucks with gun racks in the back, the desire to go unnoticed was practically innate. As soon as I could, I drove myself to Los Angeles, where I was lucky enough to meet Tom Bridegroom, who was to become the love of my life.

Tom, my partner of six years, accidentally fell off a roof on May 7, 2011, while taking photographs of our best friend. He fell four stories onto a cement patio and died. We never imagined that we would lose one another. Because we weren’t able to marry and because, young and feeling invincible, we hadn’t had papers drawn up that would’ve protected us if one of us died, I lost all claim to Tom after he fell. I found myself facing the reality of what that meant: His parents, who were opposed to him being gay, took his body, buried him in a manner contrary to Tom’s wishes, and I received a threat of physical harm if I were to show up at the funeral.

My devastation was multiplied.

On the anniversary of Tom’s passing, I posted a video on YouTube titled “It Could Happen To You” to share my story. I recently wrote on a previous HRC blog post about why I made the YouTube video, which has been viewed almost 3 million times. I’ve received over 50,000 messages from people all over the world - many of them telling me how their minds have been changed around the issue of marriage equality because of my video and our story.

I think my story has had this kind of impact because it's real - it's human - and it brings us all down to the same level. Our common denominator is the desire to love and be loved in return, and to be treated fairly. Everyone deserves these basic rights. Because of the impact our story has had, I've decided to try to spread it even further by making a feature documentary. I want people to come face-to-face with exactly who they are opposing.

I refuse to let fear and bullies prevent me from telling my story. In fact, I’m trying to take my message to an even greater audience. I’ve partnered with two great producers, Linda Bloodworth Thomason (Designing Women, The Man From Hope) and Linda Burstyn (Emmy-award winning writer/producer of Nightline with Ted Koppel) to make a feature-length documentary: BRIDEGROOM, An American Love Story.

If we're able to quickly raise the money we need to make the film (we're doing it all on Kickstarter), we hope to get the film into theaters by fall and perhaps affect the national conversation around this critical issue.

As the debate over marriage equality continues to rage, our hope is that our story touches people’s hearts and changes their minds. BRIDEGROOM will be much more than a tragic love story. This film will represent every person who has ever been ostracized and condemned for being who they are and loving who they love.

Tom did not die for this issue - his death was a terrible, ill-timed accident and I would do anything to bring him back. But this film and people’s reaction to it could make his death a little less meaningless for me and for all those people who loved him for who he really, truly was: a beautiful man with perhaps a prescient name.

This film will be for him, my love, my partner, the man who should have been my husband: Tom Bridegroom.

We can’t change history, but together we can create a more equal future. I hope you join me.

For more information, visit the Bridegroom Kickstarter page.

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