About 260 people rallied Sunday to
protest the destruction of a billboard that featured a gay former
Marine in Memphis.
The billboard, one of five paid for by
the Memphis Gay and
Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC), featured Tim Smith with the
caption “I'm gay and I protected your freedom.” The billboards
are part of an awareness campaign for National Coming Out Day, the
October 11 event during which gay men and lesbians are encouraged to
come out to a friend, family member or co-worker.
Hundreds came to hear what Smith had to
“My career came to an end in the
Marine Corps because of a prejudice and a hateful and unnecessary
policy colliding with a hateful act on the part of a minister. I
think it's very important for us in the community to understand that
our enemy is not people that are straight, our enemy is not people
who are necessarily conservative, our enemy is not necessarily the
church. Our enemy is ignorance. Our enemy is misunderstanding ,”
Smith told a cheering crowd inside the First Congregational Church,
just blocks from the center.
Smith was drummed out of the Marines
under the military policy that bans gay men and lesbians from serving
openly, known as “don't ask, don't tell.” His sexuality was not
a problem until a minister took it upon himself to press the issue,
“A former head of the Chaplin corps
retired and became a local minister and when I refused his help to
enter a change ministry he pushed my command to discharge me from the
Marine corps,” Smith told the radio program The Takeaway.
He was forced out with an honorable
discharge in 2005 after serving four years. “I take great offense
at the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy,” Smith said. “There are
so many wonderful people that I know personally and so many thousands
more that have lost their careers, and had their lives drastically
affected by a policy that really has no place in the military and in
a society that we live in today … I think it's being held in place
mainly by a slight few at the very top who still have some misplaced
fear and ignorance of a homosexual orientation.”
Will Batts, the executive director of
MGLCC, said that although Memphis is a conservative city the
vandalism surprised him.
“We certainly live in an area that is
not as open and welcoming as some other parts of the country,”
Batts told On Top Magazine.
“Although it's an iffy lot, it's a
fairly well trafficked street and being so close to the main police
station downtown – a block and a half – it wasn't defaced, it
wasn't shredded, it's just gone. And for that to happen on such a
busy street is actually shocking to me,” he said.
The billboard featuring Smith was
replaced Thursday, Batts added.