"It’s a distasteful matter that has no business being on a billboard!" That’s what many religious fanatics will argue and for once I agree. If a U.S. Marine plastered “I love having oral sex with my wife and I protected your freedom!” I could understand the outrage and the motive of some to have it torn down, but the fact of the matter is that that same Marine being good in bed with his wife won’t get him discharged from patriotically serving his country. Nor would other factors such as being left-handed (once considered evil), a woman, or black bear the same results. Other things considered by some to be undesirable and a choice won’t get you discharged either, like being Jewish, being an illegal immigrant who wants to serve his new homeland and earn his citizenship, or not having voted for George Bush in the 2000/2004 elections.
Just being gay however will.
Though it hasn’t been that way for a long time, you used to not be able to serve your country if you were “a negro,” and even when you could, you were segregated from your fellow white soldiers. Oh, you could defend them, give your life to save them, but you wouldn’t be allowed to eat or sleep anywhere near them. This is one of the reasons the actions of the heroic and much-decorated Tuskegee Airmen who saved hundreds of lives took so long to become general knowledge. Some didn’t want it known those Negroes could be as brave as (if not braver than) their fellow white soldiers.
Thankfully that’s changed, but when it did there was as much of an uproar over military desegregation as there is over the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy today.
The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, in preparation for National Coming Out Day on October 11th, put up a series of billboards in Memphis, Tennessee. On one of them was the image of ex-USMC Tim Smith (27) in full dress uniform emblazoned with the words “I’m gay and I protected your freedom.” Smith, currently a student, served his country from 2001-2005. The mere fact that Smith was brave enough to serve his country goes to the heart of his patriotism. The fact that he was brave enough to allow his image to be displayed so prominently and publicly, putting himself in harm’s way (prejudice, hate and publicity) goes to the heart of his courage.
The fact that the billboard, located at the bustling corner of Poplar and High Streets, was defaced and torn down by locals speaks volumes, especially since it was on a busy downtown street and within blocks of the local police station. Instead of giving up, Smith (a University of Memphis student) proved his heart and commitment to the cause by stating, “As soon as the materials and prints come in, that billboard will go back up.” Memphis police are currently investigating the incident as vandalism and theft of property.
For those who claim that in these times displays such as these aren’t necessary and you shouldn’t have to put up with a bunch of drama queens trying to get attention, I would point out that as you read this there are thousands of gay translators and intelligence officers providing a valuable service to our country in the Middle East who are being unnecessarily yanked out of their positions for no other reason than their sexual orientation. There are right at this very moment closeted gay soldiers defending your sons and daughters’ lives with rifles, tanks, aircraft and courage, in danger of being dishonored and discharged if someone “found out.”
I will do my part to honor them, and USMC Tim Smith, by putting up that formerly battered billboard in a place where no one can deface it or tear it down… right here. Smith was drummed out of the military after a self-righteous minister decided it was his pastoral duty to press the point that the soldier wasn’t moral enough to serve his country and pushed the issue with the Marines until the four-year veteran was discharged.
There are those who claim that gays only number maybe one or two out of a hundred because you don’t see that many painted-up and sequined fairy queens around town. The truth of the matter is that we’re closer to one in ten and that your next-door neighbor, best friend, and/or local butcher, baker, and candlestick maker are gay, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them, so they remain invisible and uncounted.
On October 11th, I urge all of America’s closeted gays to come out to just one friend, family member or co-worker. Now, I'm sure a lot of you straight folks will smirk and come up with the snappy retort, “How much courage could that take in these times?” I’ll answer, could you summon the courage to tell your best friend that you are gay – even if you aren’t? If it just doesn’t matter in these modern and enlightened times and I’m blowing this up all out of proportion, then you should get the same look in response from them as you would if you suddenly announced that you were left-handed… Right?