I recently wrote about Derrick Martin, the gay teenager from Georgia who sparked a media firestorm when he asked his school if he could bring another boy to prom, and who has turned his experience into a project to help other LGBT youth in crisis by founding Project LifeVest. Readers may remember that while his prom request was approved by the School Superintendent, due to the intense media coverage Derrick was kicked out of his home by his parents.
After my last report, readers wanted to know how Derrick was doing, what has happened with his parents, and get more information on what he has gone through and his plans for the future. I was lucky enough to be able to interview this amazing young man, who is moving forward and stepping up to be a great leader for the LGBT community and a great advocate for at-risk youth.
WH: Many of our readers know you from the extensive media coverage of your decision to take your boyfriend to prom. Tell us a little about how that came about and what the experience was like.
DM: I started to seriously think of bringing a same sex date to prom early in my senior year. I was single, but had two or three gay friends that I had talked to who offered to go with me. Around December, I really started telling everyone that would listen that I was going to take my boyfriend and the school can't stop me. Everyone told me that I needed to stop, that I would end up getting prom canceled if I pushed too hard, or that I would just be told no and that there was nothing that I could do about it. I wouldn't take no for an answer, and in January I went to the principal and told her that she needed to sit down. I told her that I wanted to take my boyfriend to prom, and she told me that Cochran was not ready for "that". I left her with Aaron Fricke's lawsuit coverage, and wrote down Lambda Legal's website for her to look over. She told me that she would take it to the board, but that there were no guarantees. It went on for two more months; each month, the board would say that they needed more time to talk, and then needed time to talk with their lawyer.
It wasn't until mid-March that I was finally told that I could go. I walked outside the school, called my boyfriend from my car, and cried on the phone. I was ecstatic. It was all very stressful from the moment I told the principal of my plans until I was actually at prom. The first night that I allowed the local media to interview me, my parents saw the coverage and threw me out of my home.
WH: How was the prom? Were there any problems or did it all go smoothly?
DM: Prom was amazing. Words can not even describe how great it felt to be at my senior prom with someone I wanted to be with. My dad was a monitor of the prom, and from time to time he would give me the heads up on who was talking bad about us. My date and I never went further than an arms distance from another, and stayed with a group of my good friends, just to be on the safe side. Although it had been rumored that we would be paintballed, shot, and even pelted with garbage, no one bothered us. When the senior slideshow was over, and the room started to clear out, I blindfolded my date and took him three hours from Cochran to Savannah to have a moonlight dinner on the beach. Everything was absolutely perfect, and we all had a great time.
WH: It was also reported that you had to leave home after your parents learned you were gay and the media coverage around the prom story. How is that situation now and have you found a place to stay? Do you still talk with your parents?
DM: The first night after I released the news to the press, my parents kicked me out of the house. It was not because they learned that I was gay, they had known that I was gay for almost two years. The night that they kicked me out, I was able to move into a friends house across town, and lived there for the remainder of my senior year. After I graduated, I moved down to my boyfriend's house to be closer to him over the summer (for almost 10 months, we had lived two hours apart).
I was asked to come out to California to receive an award from a group in L.A., and to be featured at GLAAD's Media Awards in SFO. When we got here, we moved in with two amazing gay men and their son. I'm living here for the remainder of the summer until I move into the dorms at Georgia Southern University. My parents and I do not talk very often, and when we have, it has been because of a death or because of a legal issue.
WH: Many young LGBT people have gone through similar situations when they come out. It sounds like you are turning your situation into something that could help all of them with your new organization, Project LifeVest. Tell us about that.
DM: Project LifeVest is an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ youths in need. If a teen is kicked out for being gay, and has nowhere to turn, we will do whatever we can to help. If someone falls under the scrutiny of the media, like I did when I came out saying I was going to prom, we will be there to direct the media, to be a wall of protection from the stress that comes with media.
We also want to be there for anyone who is injured because of hate or discrimination. We have already worked with a kid whose father, in a fit of rage, stabbed him in the leg with a rusty shovel. We have the connections, and the passion to help those who need it. Discrimination is something that no one should have to endure, especially alone.
WH: What can our readers do to help support Project LifeVest?
DM: Project LifeVest can not exist without help from the community. At the present time, we do not have any sponsors or funding other than the donations tab on our website, and my life savings. We also are working with a very small group of dedicated directors who can not do it alone. If your readers have any suggestions or requests, they can find out contact information on our website at www.projectlifevest.org. Also, if they want to donate money to LifeVest they can. We appreciate any help that we can get; at this point, it is a struggle to get the word out.
Also, and this is important for everyone to know about. If any of your readers need help, PLEASE make it clear that they can find help here with us. They can e-mail me at email@example.com.
WH: What do you want to say to other LGBT young people who may be struggling to come out or who might be in a similar situation with their families?
DM: The spot that a lot of LGBTQ youths find themselves in is a very tough one. I always felt that it would be best to keep it from my parents until I could support myself, but that option was taken from me by a jealous ex of my boyfriend's at the time. If you feel like you really cannot go another day hiding your sexuality from your parents, then by all means tell them.
My suggestion is this: be prepared for the best, and the worst. In the end, we are always going to be here for teens who need us.