The Southern Poverty Law Center demanded Wednesday that a conservative nonprofit organization led by Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) immediately stop using a same-sex couple’s private engagement photo as part of anti-gay campaign literature.
Delgaudio’s group, Public Advocate of the United States, was
designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center this year. The SPLC, an internationally recognized civil-rights organization, is now representing Tom Privitere and Brian Edwards, a New Jersey couple who saw an altered version of their engagement photo appear on a campaign mailer opposing gay marriage.
The flier, which includes Public Advocate’s name and address, targeted Republican Colorado state Sen. Jean White, who had supported a bill to allow same-sex couples to form civil unions, the Denver Post reported. White lost in the primary election in June.
Christine Sun, deputy legal director at the SPLC, said in a statement that the alteration and use of the couple’s photo without permission was “morally reprehensible.”
Delgaudio’s Falls Church-based organization has received frequent attention for its ardently anti-gay messages. Delgaudio has previously decried airport pat-down procedures, anti-bullying legislation and a boisterous Florida pirate festival as evidence of the proliferation of “radical homosexuality.”
Sun described Public Advocate’s history as a “crusade” against the gay community.
“This latest attack is the most vicious yet and should serve as a warning that your personal photos are not safe from anyone willing to stoop to the vilest level of harassment,” she said in the SPLC statement.
Delgaudio did not confirm Public Advocate’s possession or distribution of the image.
“I am looking into this,” he said in a statement.
Delgaudio said that Public Advocate is a nonprofit organization — it is registered as a 501(c)4, according to IRS records — and that the group makes “no money” from its “educational materials.” In recent years, the group has raised about $1 million annually in donations, according to IRS records.
The original photo showed the couple kissing before the New York City skyline; in the altered image featured on the flier, the city background was replaced by snow-covered trees, and a bright red banner with the words “State Senator Jean White’s Idea of Family Values?” cut across the couple’s chests.
“I was shocked to see our engagement photo with a big red slash across it. Knowing our image had been used to spread lies, hate, and fear, contradicts the original meaning of the picture," Privitere said in the SPLC statement. “It was used to attack what Brian and I hold dear – our lives together, our family, and marriage equality.”
In the cease and desist letter sent Wednesday, the SPLC asked that Public Advocate confirm by July 23 that it has stopped the unauthorized use of the couple’s photo.
Sun said the SPLC was investigating additional legal action against Public Advocate — including a possible copyright complaint on behalf of photographer Kristina Hill, as well as complaints on behalf of Privitere and Edwards for the misuse of the photo and resulting emotional distress.