This month, Derrick Martin, a senior at Bleckley County High School in Cochran, Ga., won the right to take his boyfriend, Richard Goodman, to the prom on April 17. But the high-profile decision divided his small town, prompted his parents to kick out their only child, and even resulted in death threats for the college-bound 18-year-old. The soft-spoken Martin, currently living with his best friend — though he sees his math teacher father at school every day — talked with The Advocate by phone on Sunday about his mixed experiences since taking a stand.
The Advocate: Are you surprised at all the attention the prom decision has received?
Derrick Martin: Definitely. I thought maybe The [Macon] Telegraph, the local paper, would write something small. Now, I have people contacting me from all over.
How are you and Richard holding up in the spotlight?
Everything’s pretty good. I can’t really complain. It’s a big shock for both of us, but we’re both fine. We’re managing.
What’s it like being openly gay in Cochran?
It’s hard. Everyday you walk around and people yell at me: “Queer! Faggot!” It was like that even before I asked to go to prom.
Have you been threatened since your story broke?
I’ve actually been threatened to be shot at. Someone told me I should watch where I’m going when I ride around town, because they would be riding around with a gun. I’m looking into private security between now and prom, and I have an off-duty deputy that said he would go to prom with me. For now, in terms of security, I do things like drive home a different way every day.
Are you receiving any support from national or local LGBT organizations?
I have people offering to do whatever they can to help. I don’t really have anybody taking care of all my scheduling, if that’s what you mean.
Is there anything more the national gay community can do to help you?
If somebody could help me look for security between now and prom, that would be great, because that’s really hard to do on top of everything else. If somebody does feel the need to donate anything — I love flowers, but I really just cannot take anymore flowers. I have a PayPal account setup on Facebook if people want to give me something to help. I tell people the best thing they can do is to help spread the word.
What do you say to the community members and fellow students who rallied against you Thursday?
My main response is going to be planning a pro rally, on April 10, a week before prom, and we’re trying to make it a lot bigger than 20 people sitting in front of a courthouse.
People are afraid this is going to make it so that when they go to college and people ask them where they went to school, people are going to say, “That’s the gay school.” The girl who organized the rally told me she didn’t want to be associated with people like me. She didn’t want any more gays to come to Bleckley County. She told me I wasn’t Christian. She said she didn’t want to go to prom. I never thought comments would be made like that.
Do you consider yourself religious?
I don’t consider myself any denomination. All I consider is my personal connection with God and Jesus Christ. That’s really the only thing that connects me with religion. I do believe in God.
Are religious beliefs the reason behind your parents’ opposition to your prom fight?
Yeah, that’s it.
Have you spoken with your parents since they kicked you out of their house?
My dad calls me. We’ll just talk about just what’s going on and the different things I’m going through. He doesn’t support my lifestyle but he’s still my dad and he cares about me. He’s a math teacher at my school. I see him some days at school. He has a free class at the same time I have one in the afternoon and sometimes I stop by his classroom. I haven’t talked to my mother.
Where you out to your family before this happened?
Yes, since late sophomore year. I’m an only child. They kicked me out because of all the attention.
Is it possible there could be changes to the prom despite the school’s promises, given the community controversy?
I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay as it is. There is a second prom planned for the night, some businesses said they would hold it if people don’t want to go.
Do you have time for other interests outside all this?
I love theater. I’m in the show choir. Drama. I pretty much love anything that any kid likes. Music is also an inspiration.
Do you have any public appearances planned in addition to your visit with the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus this past Friday?
I’ve been invited to different churches to speak. I’ve been invited to different schools. Next weekend I am spending the entire time with Richard. We really haven’t spent that much time together since all this happened. The Ellen DeGeneres Show producers called me so I might be going there within a couple weeks, or two or three, and then I did say that I was going to go back to Virginia Highland Baptist Church. That’s where the gay men’s chorus in Atlanta was. I haven’t really made any other engagements.
Have you spoken with Constance McMillen, the Mississippi high school senior whose bid to take her girlfriend to the prom was rejected by school officials?
We haven’t actually been able to speak, but a lawyer with the ACLU told me she would put me in touch with her. She’s been pretty busy, as I understand it.
What are your future plans?
I’ll be going in the fall to Georgia Southern University to begin pre-law studies and after that hopefully go to Harvard or Yale for law school. Then I want to go to Atlanta or New York and eventually start my own law firm.
Was there any role model or event in the world at large that drove your fight this season?
Nothing really drove it. I just wanted to go to prom.