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First Posted: 10/15/2014

WILKES-BARRE — As the names of 6,500 donors who made his documentary film possible crawled up the movie screen behind him, Shane Bitney Crone stood onstage at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center, humbled by a standing ovation.

“I just want to say thank you so much for all of you being here tonight, for giving me the opportunity to share my story with all of you,” Crone told the crowd of well over 100 who came to the Wilkes University campus for a screening of the documentary film “Bridegroom.”

The film, by award-winning director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, tells the story of Crone dealing with the death of Thomas Bridegroom, his life partner and business partner. Because they weren’t married, Crone discovered he had no legal standing in the relationship. He was forbidden by Bridegroom’s family from attending the funeral.

Crone, who had worked with Bridegroom in an entertainment business, put together a video about his experience and posted it to YouTube. Released on May 7, 2012, a year after Bridegroom’s death, the video, titled “It Could Happen to You,” went viral. As of Tuesday night, it’s had more than 4.9 million views.

A few weeks after he posted the video, Crone told the audience after Tuesday’s screening, he was approached by Bloodworth-Thomason, whom he noted was the creator of the late 1980s/early 1990s TV show “Designing Women.”

“She said she saw the interview and wanted to try to reach more people with my story,” Crone said.

Crone said Bloodworth-Thomason shared with him her experience with her mother, who was a victim of transfused AIDS, and how she witnessed firsthand the discrimination so many in the gay community had to deal with because of the way much of society connected the gay community with the “AIDS crisis.”

“When she was in the hospital with her mom, the nurses wouldn’t even come into her mom’s room. They literally put pills in a bucket and kicked them into her mom’s room,” Crone said.

“When she shared that experience with me, I just felt like she was the perfect person to tell my story. And given the reaction from the YouTube video, I just knew that making the documentary was the right thing to do,” he said.

Questions and answers

Crone answered more than a dozen questions from audience members, with topics ranging from the religious background of Bridegroom’s family to Crone’s favorite memories of the man he loved.

Asked if he was open to falling in love again, Crone admitted that for a year after Bridegroom died, the very idea made him nauseous.

“I just couldn’t imagine it. But as time moved on, I realize that I’m young and it’s possible. But it’s not a priority,” he said. “I feel like this is an opportunity for me to kind of work on loving myself. And If I’m meant to fall in love, I feel like it will happen. I won’t chase it.”

Asked if there was ever a different title for “Bridegroom,” Crone said Bloodworth-Thomason sat him down and said, “‘Shane, his last name is Bridegroom.’ I said, yeah? I mean, I always knew it was kind of a weird last name, but I never thought too much of it.”

“Then she said, ‘Don’t you see this is something that’s bigger than him, that’s bigger than you?’ It’s just one of those moments where you just get chills, because I never thought of it like that,” Crone said.

Asked who he hopes the film can reach, Crone said he hopes it reaches “people who are on the fence about the issue, who are open to seeing this kind of situation differently.”

“I like the idea of reaching out to people and hopefully inspiring them and giving them hope, but also maybe reaching parents who have a hard time accepting their children and just to see how important it is to love your children unconditionally,” he said.

Reaction to the reaction

After the Q&A and prior to joining the audience for a reception in the upper lobby of the Darte Center, Crone said he was “kind of blown away” by the community’s reaction to the film and to his appearance.

“I’m not used to having an audience give me a standing ovation. So that is incredible, and I’m just so grateful for the amount of support I’ve received this year and tonight,” Crone said.

Crone said he has visited close to 100 venues to show the film over the past two years. “But this past year is when I started going to universities. So that’s kind of a new thing for me. But to me, it’s one of the most important parts of my journey — to try to reach as many young people as I can, young people who may be struggling like I used to,” Crone said.

“Usually at every single school, I meet one young person who has been kicked out of their home, who can’t even go home for the holidays. I didn’t expect that when I started traveling and going to schools. But it kind of inspires me, kind of pushes me to keep doing this,” he said.

Crone, now 28 and living in Los Angeles, made a point of mentioning he drove to Wilkes-Barre from Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“It’s one of the most beautiful drives that I’ve ever experienced because, in L.A., you don’t get to experience a change of seasons, ever. So that was a bonus to this trip, just to be in this town. It’s a beautiful place,” Crone said.

Bringing it here

Anthony Bartoli, a Communication Studies major from Laflin in his senior year at Wilkes, said he decided he wanted to try to have Crone present the film at the school after seeing it this past winter.

“Just from my life experiences, it hit hard, and it was something I felt like I needed to let other people experience,” Bartoli said. “And not just people I knew, but people from all over the community. It was just really important to me that they see this.”

So he contacted Crone’s manager and told him he came from “a really small school in a really small city” and asked if a showing was possible at Wilkes. With cooperation from school officials, they managed to schedule a showing, and he’s ecstatic the plans came together.

“It was awesome. Everybody was so supportive, and I’m so, so happy with the turnout today,” Bartoli said.

A diverse message

Asked why he decided to attend the screening, Jonathan Harter, 25, of Mountain Top, said he’s friends with Bartoli and had previously seen the movie on Netflix.

“It was a really powerful message for, obviously, marriage equality. So I wanted to come to support my friend and just to support the community and Wilkes for bringing it to the community,” Harter said.

“I think that it’s something great for the area because I don’t think a lot of things like that get into the Northeast Pennsylvania area. I think we’re a little behind, not a lot of progressive movements, and I just thought it was a great, powerful message to bring to the area,” he said.

Emmie Gibson, a junior Integrated Media major from Brackney, said she made a last-minute decision to see the film after she saw a flyer on campus publicizing it.

“I decided to get a hold of my friends and go just to see what it was about,” Gibson said. “And I’m so glad I came. It’s just really eye-opening because where I’m from is very traditional and very small and we don’t have a lot of diversity. So it’s just nice and refreshing to get with a bunch of people that are open and accepting to something like this and see it.”

Her reaction to the film?

“It was great. It’s definitely something that hurts your soul, but it also opens your eyes to not take anything for granted and to love every moment that you have.”