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Viral Photo, Symbol of Gay Fatherhood, Is Now Used to Oppose It

First, their birth photo went viral as a positive symbol of gay parenthood. Now, it's making the rounds for a different reason: Gays with Kids contributors BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson recently learned conservative activists have used their photo to fight against gay family rights for months.

Irish political candidate Mary Fitzgibbon, whose Twitter posts consist almost entirely of Frankie and BJ's touching birth photos, gory fetus photos and more gory fetus photos, believes gay surrogacy "robs" children of motherly love.

It's not the first time the couple has heard those arguments; they received plenty of negative comments when their photo went viral in 2014. But then, they were so overwhelmed by well-wishes from around the world — coupled with the sleepless delirium of parenting a newborn.

"It was very emotional and heartening to know that there's a lot of people out there who support you and support us and they just want the best," BJ says.

This is different.

"It's kind of shocking," BJ says. "They were using our photo to prove how disgusting that was and how wrong this is."

Italy's long-awaited gay marriage vote has stalled because it would expand gay adoption rights, thereby easing the surrogacy process. The Catholic church has strongly opposed the bill despite overwhelming public support of gay marriage.

In Ireland, a gay marriage law passed in 2015, with adoption and surrogacy again a heated topic. In both countries, polling showed the public still mostly opposed to same-sex adoption.

Photographer Linsday Foster has spoken out against Fitzgibbon's use of her photo and says Fitzgibbon also used the image in 2015 to oppose Ireland's gay marriage referendum.

Foster says when she confronted Fitzgibbon online, she replied that the photo had been co-opted by activists in Italy long before she used it.

"That was her response," she says. "Like I've singled her out."

Just like for Frank and BJ, illegal use isn't the only thing that's incensed Foster: "My work is being misrepresented for something I don't believe in."

Frank and BJ remain optimistic that their powerful photo will have positive effects even when used as a tool for hate.

"Even though it's now being used in negative ways, it's also bringing awareness, right?" BJ says. "A lot of people who might not understand [surrogacy] may look into it again."

Yesterday, BJ looked at the photo for the first time. Like, really looked at it.

"It's overwhelming to me. Now that Milo is 19 months, it's so interesting to look at his face," he says. So much has changed since he was a slime-covered newborn, the umbilical cord still attached when the photo was snapped.

"And I'm so happy that Milo is ours." That, he says, Fitzgibbon cannot ruin. "Milo is one of the happiest and healthiest little boys we know. Frank and I look at Milo and are so lucky that he is our son. We are doing our all to give him the best life possible."

To speak out against illegal and hateful use of their family's photo, Frankie and BJ ask that you share your own beautiful family photos with @MaryFitzgibbon on Twitter (or via email at maryfitzgibbon2016@gmail.com) using the hashtag #wearefamily.

If you'd like to see more beautiful tender photos of gay dads and their kids, check out the photos in Tender Moments: The Best Instagram Photos of Gay Dads Cuddling and Sleeping With Their Kids

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The bill was sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay man who became a father via surrogacy, and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who has been public with her experiences with infertility.

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