SPLC sues anti-gay hate group over defilement of couple’s engagement photo

It’s a thought that pains Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere. The married couple can’t stand the thought of LGBT youth seeing a mailer that uses their cherished engagement photo to attack a politician for supporting same-sex civil unions.

The photo, which shows the couple kissing, was misappropriated by an anti-LGBT hate group for use in the mailer attacking Colorado state Sen. Jean White. Bold words on a red background were added to the picture: “State Senator Jean White’s idea of ‘Family Values?’”

“We are heartbroken that our images may have been seen by gay and lesbian youth in Colorado and were left feeling ashamed of their sexual orientation because of it,” Privitere said. “We hope that this group is held accountable for its reprehensible and hateful anti-gay attacks.”

On behalf of the couple and photographer Kristina Hill, the Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies filed suit today against Public Advocate of the United States, a group based in Falls Church, Va. Filed in federal court for the District of Colorado, the lawsuit charges that Public Advocate misappropriated the likeness and personalities of the couple.

It also charges that as a result, the couple suffered harm, including mental distress and anguish. The suit was filed on behalf of the couple and photographer Kristina Hill of Kristina Hill Photography.

“This case is about the defilement of a beautiful moment by a group known for demonizing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director. “This was just a cheap way for Public Advocate to avoid having to pay for a stock photo to use in their hateful anti-gay attack ad. It was nothing short of theft.”

The SPLC sent a letter to Public Advocate and its president, Eugene Delgaudio, in July warning that it was investigating the unauthorized use of the copyrighted photo. The letter demanded confirmation that the group had ceased its unauthorized use. Neither Delgaudio nor Public Advocate responded to the letter.

The original photo, taken by Hill, showed the couple with the New York City skyline in the background. Delgaudio superimposed the couple onto a snowy, tree-filled background to imply the photo was taken in Colorado. The message questioning the Colorado lawmaker’s values also were added.

The couple shared the original engagement photo with family and friends through Edwards’ blog, along with photos of the couple’s wedding ceremony.

“I cringe every time I look at what once was one of our favorite photos,” Edwards said. “All I see now is the defiled image used to attack our family and our community. All we want is justice for the pain that Public Advocate has caused us.”

The lawsuit also charges that Public Advocate infringed on Hill’s exclusive right to the photo, which is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Unauthorized use of Hill’s work jeopardizes her livelihood as a professional photographer and the satisfaction she receives knowing her clients are pleased and will enjoy her work for years.

“It fuels me as a photographer to know that my photographs will be cherished, that they will hang on walls, be passed around at gatherings, put in albums, and that someday maybe children and grandchildren will display these moments in their own homes,” said Hill of Kristina Hill Photography. “To see the photo used as an attack ad is heartbreaking for me.”

This isn’t the first time Public Advocate has attacked the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Other activities by the group include:

  • A fundraising letter asked readers to “imagine a world where the police allow homosexual adults to rape young boys in the streets.”

  • The group compared marriage equality to bestiality by staging a “Man-Donkey Mock Wedding Ceremony.”

  • Public Advocate has claimed that permitting gay men to be Boy Scout leaders is “the same as being an accessory to the rape of hundreds of boys.”

  • The group has mischaracterized federal legislation designed to address anti-LGBT harassment at schools as “requir[ing] schools to teach appalling homosexual acts” and leading to “a new America based on sexual promiscuity.”

Other attorneys on the case include Daralyn Durie and Joseph Gratz of Durie Tangri LLP, and Daniel Williams, and Chris Larson of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP in Colorado.