A New Jersey gay couple, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere, who married in 2010, were shocked to discover that a photo taken at their engagement party showing them kissing was appropriated by an anti-gay group, altered and used in an anti-gay campaign.
The ad with the altered photo was allegedly sponsored by a group called the Public Advocate of the United States and it was used in an anti-gay political campaign against a Republican who supported civil union legislation. The ad tagline reads: "State Sen. Jean White's Idea of 'Family Values?'"
The altered image shows the couple kissing, with the New York City skyline of the original photo replaced with snow-covered trees and a bright red banner with the words “State Senator Jean White’s Idea of Family Values?” cutting across the center of the photo.
The gay couple and the photographer Kristina Hill, with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), are threatening to sue Public Advocate and its president Eugene Delgaudio, if they do not stop using their engagement photo. According to Hill, Public Advocate does not have the permission to use the photo.
ABC News reports that Public Advocate is based in Falls Church, Va., and is on the list of SPLC's 2011 list of hate groups. The Washington Post reports that Public Advocate has frequently been involved in controversy over its anti-gay messages. Delgaudio, according to The Washington Post, has described airport pat-down, anti-bullying legislation and Florida pirates festivals as evidence of the proliferation of what he called "radical homosexuality."
According to ABC News, the couple learned about the photo from a friend who saw it in a mailer.
Edwards, 32, a college administrator, said: "Our immediate reaction was to find out where it had come from. We scoured the Internet and found an article in the Denver Post to find out more. We went through the whole process of anger and heartbreak. And now that we are on this road, we are trying to get some justice not just for us, but for other couples."
Edwards wrote on his blog, “First off, I want to share what this picture means to me. It represents my long-term relationship with my best friend, my partner, and now husband — love we share and obstacles we have overcome.”
Edwards said he was shocked at the manner the photo was altered, saying: “Now, I see it faded and brown with a big red, blood-emulating slash across our bodies. It cuts us in half just below our hearts... I’m angry and I’m hurt and I’m flabbergasted and I’m livid.”
Privitere, 37, who works in entertainment ticketing and lives with Edwards in Montclair, N.J., said: "Our initial reaction was complete shock." He said: "We were heartbroken to see that our picture that was taken to represent love and family, and our values, and to share with other LGBT couples, was used for complete opposite purposes to induce fear and spread hate and bigotry."
According to ABC News, Delgaudio, head of the board of supervisors for Loudon County, Virginia, responded to inquiries about the photo, saying: "I am searching whether or not we have the photo. I have not commented on this ever and I have no statements on it... Someone could do this without my permission -- but I am working on it."
Public Advocate, in its reaction, said that SPLC is a "prehistoric dinosaur." The Washington Post reports that after Public Advocate was added to SPLC's list of hate groups, Delgaudio said "he disagreed with the designation but had grown accustomed to such allegations." He added: “I think the term ‘anti-gay’ is wrong, but I’m not going to cry about it... I would categorize [Public Advocate] as pro-family, pro-traditional marriage. We’re opposed to the legislation that’s being promoted. We’re opposed to federal gay rights legislation.”
SPLC lawyer Christine Sun, has said that Public Advocate has 10 days to respond before SPLC makes legal copyright claims for Hill and state law privacy claims, including infliction of emotional distress on behalf of Edwards and Tom Privitere. She said: "Beyond a lawsuit... we decided to get involved because these actions are truly reprehensible -- to take a personal photo of the happiest day in a couple's life and use it in a homophobic attack ad. It's demonizing, unfair and unjustifiable."
Edwards in his comments, said, "We want to use this as an opportunity to educate people and show them that a gay couple can and do have loving relationships."
Privitere told The Denver Post: "I think it's cool because it allows us to fight the fight." He said. "I'm so sick of being treated like a second-class citizen... This sort of thing has a trickle-down effect. I think of all the closeted gay high school students who got mail that day and felt disheartened that they would never have a family and the parents on the fence about whether to accept their gay child for who they are. That hurts."