On June 27, 2012, my husband and I learned our engagement photo, taken by Kristina Hill of Kristina Hill Photography, had been hijacked by the Public Advocate of the United States and turned into an anti-gay attack ad targeting the LGBT community and State Senator Jean White in Colorado. White had supported civil union legislation. The attack ad asked, "Senator Jean White's Ideas of 'Family Values?'"
(Original photo by Kristina Hill)
I learned by e-mail that our image had been stolen; a college friend saw the ad in a New York Daily News article. She sent a picture to me via her iPhone. I immediately searched the Internet and found an article by Lynn Bartels of The Denver Post. We called Bartels that night hoping to get more information on the mailer.
She informed us that the organization responsible for the production and dissemination of this horrific attack ad was the Public Advocate of the United States, a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). We also learned that our image had been used in at least two different ads. The second targeted Colorado candidate Jeffrey Hare.
That night, Bartels published our interview in The Denver Post and I responded on my blog, The Gay Wedding Experience. Coincidentally, our blog, which was originally created to chronicle our journey down the aisle, provided information to family and friends about our wedding-planning process and served as a resource to other engaged LGBT couples, was where the original image was lifted.
People keep asking me, "What has this experience been like?' or "How does it make you feel?"
Words cannot accurately describe how it felt to see my image -- an image that represented love and home and pride -- defiled and used to incite fear and hate against my family, my community and those who support us. I can, however, express my immediate reactions when I saw the photo. Those reactions mirror those of my husband and our photographer, Kristina: shock, intense anger and utter heartbreak.
I can also tell you that those emotions have only grown stronger in the last two weeks as our lives have been turned upside down. We find it hard to concentrate; our brains are constantly focused on this issue. We keep asking ourselves why someone would take our personal image and use it in such an evil way?
So, how does it make me feel? I feel like a kid again.
Like many LGBT youth, I was bullied. It started in the first grade and lasted throughout high school. I was called a "girl," or "faggot" or "queer" every single day. I was beaten up and threatened. My car was vandalized and I was regularly told I was going to be killed.
Like many gay teens, I was terrified to come out. But during my senior year in high school, something happened to me. I just couldn't take it any more. I came out of the closet and miraculously, the bullying lessened. Things started to get a bit better. I certainly cannot say this will be the case for everyone. I lost the adoration and support of a lot of friends and even family, a tradeoff well-worth my self-preservation.
A couple months later I left that small town in North Carolina and moved to New York City where I felt anonymous and free to be myself. It was in New York that I met my future husband, Tom Privitere. Like any couple, we had our challenges, but we persevered and in 2009 we became domestic partners. Later that year, he proposed marriage. We had our civil marriage in New Haven, Conn., on Sept. 7, 2010, and our small destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Oct. 17 that same year.
Brian and his husband Tom
Months later, New York City legalized same-sex marriage! It all got better! Then like any couple, we started looking towards our future. Tom got a new job and we moved to Montclair, N.J. We started looking for our first house and an English Bulldog to add to our family (We have two cats -- Toby and Maude). We plan to name him "Higgins" -- what do you think?
At this point in my life, I imagined we would just live happily ever after. We can't. There are still bullies among us determined to demonize us, threaten us and in some cases murder us. There are organizations like the Public Advocate of the United States and its president, Eugene Delgaudio, who spread lies about our community to induce fear and hatred from our fellow man.
And you ask me "How does that make me feel?" I'm livid and upset. And I'm empowered. I am tired of being bullied, of being told that my family is not valued. I am tired of living in fear -- and I refuse to let this man or this organization or anyone else make me feel like I am less than worthy of equality in this country. It is my country, too.
I -- no -- we (Kristina, Tom and I) are going to stand up, fight this and do everything in our power to see that justice is served. On July 11, Christine Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Delgaudio on our behalf. In addition to his cooperation, we want a public apology from Delgaudio and a promise that he will never do this to LGBT couples again.
We want him to know that we are looking into our legal options and that his actions will backfire. His activities will only help us to educate the world. We will reclaim our image. We are not children anymore, and we refuse to be bullied. We will take back our photo and its intent. We will speak out because "better" is no longer good enough.
Follow Brian Edwards on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BJEPhotography