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 say.

“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, he said.

“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.