The Southern Poverty Law Center alleged on April 3 that two pro-gun groups conspired with another group to create political mailers that used a gay couple’s copyrighted engagement photo to attack candidates in the 2012 Colorado Republican primaries.
The SPLC made the allegations in documents filed in a federal lawsuit. The civil rights group wants to add the pro-gun groups – the National Association for Gun Rights and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners – to its lawsuit against Public Advocate of the United States.
The groups, according to the SPLC, used the photo of Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere without the couple’s or photographer’s permission.
The mailers were a way for Public Advocate, which has been designated as an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC, to insert itself into the Colorado primaries. For the two pro-gun groups, which are based in Colorado, the mailings were part of broader attacks against candidates.
“This scheme not only shows the utter disregard these groups have for private property, but also the hatred and discrimination that LGBT people must still face in society,” said Anjali Nair, SPLC staff attorney. “There should be no doubt that we will aim to ensure everyone is held accountable for their involvement in this attack against innocent people.”
According to the SPLC, Dudley Brown, of the Rocky Mountain group, proposed the mailers in an April 2012 email to Public Advocate, describing how “[t]he gay lobby smells blood in the water, and if some pro-gay legislators don’t lose their primaries, I fear Colorado will tumble [i.e., pass legislation authorizing civil unions] in the 2013 session.”
He added: “What I propose is that PA [Public Advocate] pay for mailing. … My staff and I would do all the work, but we’d want PA to sign off, put its name on the dotted line, and pay for the mailings. I would counsel mailing slick and glossies, with the ‘two men kissing’ photo.”
The mailers featured the couple’s engagement photo. But the New York City skyline was removed from the background and replaced with snowy and rural backgrounds suggestive of Colorado.
In one mailer, bold words on a red background were added to the picture of the couple kissing: “State Senator Jean White’s idea of ‘Family Values?’”
“It’s shocking that so many groups worked together to defile a photo that meant so much to me,” Privitere said.
The couple has received hate messages since the mailers were produced. Internet postings have said that the couple deserves to go to hell and to be killed, and that any children they may have would be better off dead.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, charges that the defendants misappropriated the likeness and personalities of the couple. It also charges that they infringed on photographer Kristina Hill’s exclusive right to the photo, which is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.