Italian far-right ruling party ordered to pay €20,000 to gay couple over unauthorised use of photo

A Canadian couple won the case against the Italian ruling party after an image of the two with their baby was used in a discriminatory ad.

The image shows fathers BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson who won a case against Fratelli d'Italia for the use of their photo. In the image, the two men are standing in front of a Rainbow coloured background, being hugged by their son Milo.
Image: @bjbarone via Instagram

The far-right Italian ruling party, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), led by current Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, have been ordered to pay damages to a Canadian gay couple after they used a photo of the pair with their newborn baby in an anti-surrogacy campaign.

Fratelli d’Italia, which has neofascist origins and has repeatedly employed anti-LGBTQ+, anti-immigrant and anti-feminist rhetoric during last year’s electoral campaign, used the image in question without the couple’s permission back in 2016.

The photo, which was taken by Lindsay Foster, showed Frankie Nelson and his partner BJ Barone cradling their son Milo, moments after he was born to a surrogate mother in 2014. In it, both men were topless and overcome with emotion. After they posted the image online, it quickly went viral.

The anti-LGBTQ+ ad campaign run by Fratelli d’Italia contained the photo accompanied by a caption which read, “He will never be able to say ‘Mummy’. These are the rights of a child that must be defended.”

The couple took the case against the party with the support of the Italian LGBTQ+ law firm Gay Lex in 2016. Seven years after commencing proceedings, a court in Rome finally ruled in favour of Nelson and Barone, describing the use of the image in the ad as “offensive”, and awarding damages of €10,000 to each father. It is understood that Meloni’s party now intends to appeal the decision in order to defend its anti-LGBTQ+ stance. 

Speaking to the BBC, the couple said, “This is a small win for us, but it is a huge victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Italy and abroad. To us, our birth photo represents everything what (sic) we stand for; family, acceptance and unconditional love.” 

They continued, “This victory against the Fratelli (sic) and the Prime Minister allows us to reclaim our photo, and show the world that family is about love.”

Separately, Lindsay Foster was unsuccessful in seeking damages for breach of copyright for the use of the image, meaning she must also pay all legal fees for both parties.

The image also came under scrutiny during the 2015 Irish Marriage referendum, when Kerry TD candidate, Mary Fitzgibbon tweeted a copy of the photo with the caption: “A motherless child is the prize – the buying of children” and another saying, “We must reaffirm the right of a child to grow up and be loved where possible by their own mother and father.” 

The following year, she used the photo again on social media during her electoral campaign, in a similar vein to Fratelli d’Italia.

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