Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere sue after engagement pic used in Colorado hate mailers

In this year's campaign, Senator Jean White and state House candidate Jeffrey Hare, both Republicans, were attacked via mailers featuring a gay couple kissing and slogans suggesting that the image represented their version of family values.

Turns out that the couple in question, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere, weren't asked if their photo could be used in this way -- and now, they and the photographer who snapped the pic are suing the outfit that used it. Details and the images in question below.

Here's the original photo, as captured by photographer Kristina Hill to mark Edwards and Privitere's engagement. Note that it features the New York skyline in the background:

And here's a mailer attacking White. As you can see, the NYC scenes have been replaced by snowy trees, presumably meant to suggest the couple lives here. Finally, here's the version used against Hare, which, once again, features a different backdrop -- mainly a cloud-filled sky. According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Edwards, Privitere and Hill by the Southern Poverty Law Center (we've included it here), the mailers were funded by Public Advocate of the United States, a Virginia-based 501(c)(4). We Googled the group, and the key-word-loaded item that topped the search boasted that the organization's head man, Eugene Delgaudio, is fighting "Liberals Tyrants Elitists Homosexuals Barack Obama pornography gay marriage same-sex marriage high taxes over-regulation."

Where did Public Advocates find the shot? Likely on a blog Edwards and Privitere established to keep in touch with loved ones about their nuptials, which took place in September 2010. They learned the image had been co-opted this past June, when the New York Daily News ran an article about Senator White and featured the mailer; a friend recognized Edwards and Privitere in the shot.

Continue to read about reactions to the hate mailers and to see the lawsuit. Afterward, Edwards wrote the following on his blog:
"[The photo] represents my long term relationship with my best friend, my partner, and now husband -- the love we share and obstacles we have overcome. It is a reminder of the happiness I felt the day he proposed to me and of the excitement I had throughout our engagement. It represents hope and it represents love. Or at least it did... 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. How do I feel? I'm in shock and I'm angry and I'm hurt and I'm flabbergasted and I'm livid."
Photographer Hill also expressed displeasure on her own blog. That item reads:"Brian, a client and good friend, called me last night to share his discovery that one of the images I had taken during their engagement session had been stolen, digitally manipulated and reproduced in a campaign targeting a senator for her vote in support of a bill allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions. When I heard this, a range of emotions flooded through me. When I actually saw the image, my heart dropped.... It fuels me as a photographer to know that these images 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. To see an image, taken with that intent being used in the way it was used is heartbreaking for me."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado, asks for monetary damages and profits for Hill, as well as compensatory damages for Edwards and Privitere "for the dignitary, reputational, proprietary, and mental harms that they have suffered as a result of PAUS's conduct alleged herein."

A side note: The two candidates targeted by the attack mailers lost.

Here's the lawsuit:

Kristina Hill v Public Advocate of the United States

More from our Denver Blogs archive: "Gay engagement photo used without permission to attack Colorado senator?"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts