DENVER — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit today against an anti-gay hate group that took a gay couple's engagement photo and misappropriated it for a political ad that attacked a Colorado lawmaker's support for same-sex civil unions.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court for the District of Colorado, charges that Virginia-based Public Advocate of the United States misappropriated the likeness and personalities of the couple, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere. It also charges that as a result, the couple suffered harm, including mental distress and anguish. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the couple and photographer Kristina Hill of Kristina Hill Photography.
Public Advocate, an organization designated as a hate group by the SPLC, used the engagement photo without permission and digitally altered it to include anti-gay propaganda. That image was used in an ad that attacked Colorado state Sen. Jean White. White lost in the primary.
"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 and Brian and Tom's images. The letter demanded confirmation that the group ceased its unauthorized use. Neither Delgaudio nor Public Advocate responded to the letter.
"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 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 where White's district is located. Bold words on a red background were added: "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."
The couple shared the engagement photo with family and friends through Edwards' blog, along with photos of the couple's wedding ceremony. Many of the couple's friends and family could not attend the wedding. Sharing their photos online was a way to let others participate in their celebration.
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," Hill said. "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 anti-gay activities by the group include:
-A fundraising letter by the group 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 through staging a "Man-Donkey Mock Wedding Ceremony."
-Public Advocate has suggested that permitting gay men to be Boy Scout leaders is "the same as being an accessory to the rape of hundreds of boys."
-Mischaracterizing 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."
A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed at www.splcenter.org . Other attorneys on the case include Daralyn Durie and Joseph Gratz of Durie Tangri LLP and Daniel Williams and Chris Larson of Faegre, Baker and Daniels in Colorado.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org .