A Memphis, Tennessee gay center has
been targeted for vandalism a second time.
Last week, two men attempted to destroy
the rainbow flag that flies outside the Memphis Gay & Lesbian
Community Center (MGLCC).
Plain clothed police officers witnessed
the pair as they attempted to set fire to the rope that runs the flag
pole of the center. A scuffle broke out when the police approached
the men, who managed to escape. Officers received minor cuts and
scrapes from the altercation.
One man, Ross Burton, 23, was collared
by police about an hour later and charged with aggravated assault and
vandalism under $500. The second suspect remains at large.
The center received national attention
when one of its five billboards promoting 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, was destroyed.
The billboard featured openly gay former Marine Tim Smith with the
caption “I'm gay and I protected your freedom.”
“I'm not sure what's going on,”
Will Batts, executive director of MGLCC, answered when asked if there
was any correlation between the two incidents.
“My guess is that when we increase
our visibility and activity in the community, it brings to the
surface some of the intolerance that lingers,” he said.
A rally held at the First
Congregational Church, just blocks from the center, after the
destruction of the billboard drew hundreds 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,”
he told a cheering crowd.
No one has been charged with the
destruction of the billboard, which was replaced a week later.
For the vandals, the crime apparently
backfired. Instead of inciting hate, it united Memphis' gay and
lesbian community and increased the profile of the center.
“[The incident] gave our community a
definite focus,” Batts said. And financial contributions to the
center have also increased, he added.