The intimate moment a photographer captured of BJ Barone and his partner, Frank Nelson, holding their baby boy just seconds after he was born was so exciting, frightening, and joyful that both Toronto dads burst into tears the instant little Milo was placed in their arms.
But soon after, the photograph, which should have been a beautiful keepsake for their family, caught the attention of a political group in Italy called Fratelli d'Italia, or Brothers of Italy. The group found the image online and began using it in promotional materials to hawk its staunch anti same-sex parenting and marriage views.
Barone, who speaks Italian and whose father was born there, says a cousin informed him that their sweet family photo had been turned into this:
Translated into English, the Italian words on this poster roughly mean: "He will never be able to say 'mamma.' We're defending the rights of a baby."
"When my cousin told us that our photo was being used illegally for this neo-fascist group, we were confused," Barone tells SheKnows. "We didn't understand in what context or angle they were coming from. Then, when we saw the poster, we were shocked. Our faces became the poster child for homophobia, anti-surrogacy, anti-adoption and bigotry! We were sickened by this party and all they represent."
To make matters worse, the couple soon learned their photograph was also being used by other right-wing officials in Europe, including an Irish politician named Mary E. Fitzgibbon:
Barone and Nelson, both high school teachers, say they strongly believe in education and, rather than spending all of their time attacking the political groups, wanted to use this as an opportunity to teach and spread love, not hate. They're in the process of writing a children's book called The Adventures of Milo: A Story of Love to help relay their message that "family is love" and that surrogacy is another way families are created. They've also taken their campaign to Twitter.
“We thought that since these politicians believe that every child should have a mother and a father, why not show them that families can have two dads or two moms?" Barone says. "So we asked everyone to tweet or email the politicians pictures of their families with the hashtag #wearefamily. Anger breeds anger, so we want to do the opposite and kill them with kindness. We are very humbled that people are willing to support us and have taken the time to tweet or email pictures. This is an effort we cannot do alone, and any help we can get makes our cause that much more effective."
Their Twitter campaign has worked so well that Fitzgibbon has since changed her Twitter account to a private setting.
Barone, who describes now-21-month-old Milo as "his own little man" who enjoys pushing their buttons, tearing the house apart and cleaning up his own messes with brooms and mops, says he hasn't ruled out taking legal action against Fratelli d'Italia. Since their story broke, he and Lindsay Foster, the photographer who captured the moment, have received calls from attorneys in Italy — apparently, this isn't the first time the right-wing political group has used copyrighted photos without permission.
For now, Barone says if there was one thing he could say to Fratelli d'Italia, it would be this:
"Thank you for giving us this opportunity to show the world that families come in all shapes and sizes. Families are not based on gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Family is about love. Although you tried to tarnish our family and our image, you did the exact opposite," Barone said. "Milo has so much love in his life. He is one of the happiest little boys we know! You may not like our family, and that's OK. But we will continue to stand up and speak out and fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community."
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