[A photo of Milo, left, Frank Nelson, centre, and BJ Barone went viral in 2014 after the couple’s photographer shared it on her Facebook page. PHOTO: K. Omar of Humans of Toronto]
The image is striking — two men, overcome with emotion as they embrace their newborn son, moments after the infant entered the world via surrogate.
The photo, taken and shared on Facebook by birth photographer Lindsay Foster nearly two years ago, spread quickly across the Internet, prompting a flood of both support and criticism. (On Facebook it received close to 7,000 comments, gotten 51,000 likes and has been shared more then 10,200 times.)
Yahoo Canada News caught up with the two dads, BJ Barone and Frank Nelson, as well as several other members of the LGBTQ community whose stories have spread nationally and internationally to see how their lives have changed since their stories went viral.
Barone and Nelson are both Toronto schoolteachers and admit that being thrust into the spotlight with son Milo who they called their Pride baby has certainly changed their lives.
“It’s hard to remember what life was like before that,” Barone tells Yahoo Canada News.
Aside from going to sleep and waking up earlier, as many parents of young children do, the couple is playing an active role in bringing attention to the topic of gay marriage and surrogacy. They’ve recently published a book on the subject, titled Milo’s Adventure: A Story About Love.
[PHOTO COURTESY: Lindsay Foster Photography]
“There was a lot of false information going around about us having our shirts off in the photo so we thought we’d write a kids book to explain things in a proper way,” says Barone. (Birthing experts encourage skin-to-skin contact between baby and parents immediately after birth.)
It hasn’t all been triumph for the family. The couple, along with their photographer, is currently suing the Italian political party “The Brothers of Italy” for using the image of them in a campaign against gay marriage.
“We’ve dealt with really positive things and really negative things as a result of the photo,” says Nelson. “My process is to ignore it and not read it. My husband gets a little more fired up than I do.”
Barone says to this day, he still receives messages of support and admiration, many from gay couples looking for inspiration to start a family.
“We’ve connected with so many other families around the world from that photo, it’s truly an amazing thing,” he says. “We’re definitely part of a bigger community now.”
[Myren, left, and his boyfriend in a photo he shared on Twitter.]
A brave prom date
On May 21, a Maryland teen named Myren tweeted photos of himself and his boyfriend on the way to the prom.
“My parents told me I couldn’t go to prom because I wanted to go with my boyfriend so I had to go behind their backs,” he wrote.
The confession quickly spread, gathering more than 23,000 retweets and over 50,000 likes.
The next day, the 17-year-old uploaded photos of his night, which he described in an email to Yahoo Canada News as “a great time.” He was soon flooded with interview requests from fashion magazines and broadcasters from around the globe. Despite the recognition he received globally, Myren’s parents, who aren’t Internet-savvy, still have no idea of the attention their son is receiving.
“Still to this day our parents are oblivious to the fact that we went to prom together and that we went viral online,” he says.
As for how his life has changed since prom, Myren says going viral has made him feel more comfortable in himself.
“Since I posted me and my boyfriend’s prom pictures I’ve been more open with my relationship,” he says. “I actually hold his hand in public now because I no longer fear what people will say. I know that there are a lot of people who support me so I feel more confident being in a gay relationship. Me and my boyfriend became proud of our stories and hoped that we could inspire someone else to pursue happiness like we did.”
However, Myren still hopes he can keep the fact that he snuck out to prom a secret.
[Kelly Hofer’s story has been recorded in a short documentary film “Queer Hutterite” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO]
Out of the colony, out of the closet, into the world
Kelly Hofer, 23, was raised in a Hutterite colony in a remote part of Manitoba.
Living amongst 100 other people who allocate everything from money to machinery to food, there was one thing Hofer had a challenge sharing with his community: he kept his sexuality a secret.
“I came out as soon as I left,” he tells Yahoo Canada News.
When he moved to Calgary four years ago, he finally opened up to his parents about being gay. After some initial confusion, they accepted it.
The reaction from his former community wasn’t as harmonious when he took his message to Facebook.
“They told me to die, all the normal stuff you get when someone’s really homophobic,” he says.
Hofer was recently featured in a documentary called Queer Hutterite. It was the second-most viewed short on Telus Optik’s opening weekend.
He says his life hasn’t changed dramatically since the film was released, as he’s been featured in the media before for his work in photography and wearable technology.
“It’s like an amped up version of before,” he says. “Now there’s random people on the street who recognize me. When I meet people who’ve seen the documentary, they think they know me. There’s an imbalance of knowing each other.”
He hopes that teachers and other leaders in colonies and remote communities will start the conversation about LGBTQ issues in order to make them more supportive.
“If you come out in the city and your parents kick you out, you have friends you can go to,” he says. “On the colony, if you get kicked out, there’s nobody.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the parties involved in the lawsuit against the Italian political party, The Brothers of Italy. It is BJ Barone, Frank Nelson and their photographer.