Thursday, October 1, 2009

Memphis Gay Service Member: "Billboard will return"

"The gay former marine who appeared in the Memphis billboard destroyed last week by vandals insists the billboard will return.

“The billboard will go back up,” Tim Smith told Memphis' Eyewitness News. “As soon as the materials and prints come in, that billboard will go back up.”

The billboard, one of five paid for by the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC), featured 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.

Smith is expected to speak at the Sunday rally being organized by the center. Will Batts, executive director of MGLCC, said the rally will be held at the First Congregational Church, just blocks from the center, and feature the theme “Raise your voice.”

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.”

“It was the result of a minister pushing the issue of my being gay and being allowed to continue to serve,” Smith said.

Batts 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 on Sunday.

“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.

Memphis police say they are investigating the vandalism as a theft of property."

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