Derrick Martin shares memory of his high school prom

Derrick Martin (top photo left) and his boyfriend, Richard Goodman, attended Martin’s senior prom at Bleckley County High School in Cochran, Ga., on April 17.

While Martin worried about his safety, especially in light of some students organizing protests against him, he and Goodman were greeted by cheers from many of those who gathered to watch couples enter the prom as part of the school’s traditional “walk through,” according to a Facebook posting by Martin posted on April 25.

Martin asked permission from school officials to bring his boyfriend to the prom and received it. The story made international headlines and heroes of the young couple, who looked very smart in their black and white tuxes as they walked into the prom.

Martin acknowledged in his posting he was disappointed his parents were not there to witness the event. Martin was asked to leave his home after his story first made local headlines before being picked up nationally and then globally.

Arturo Beéche, a gay man from San Francisco who befriended the teens via Facebook after hearing about their story, flew to Georgia to be with Derrick and Richard the night of the prom.

Beéche has a husband and family and is an instructor at a college preparatory school. He is also a published author and a lecturer who has given conferences in Europe, Latin America and the United States, he said. Beéche drove the teens to the prom and then to Savannah afterward for a romantic weekend getaway Martin planned for Goodman. He plans to return to Georgia for their high school graduations in May.

When I visited Cochran on April 17, which is a very, very tiny town, there were teens scattered throughout wearing tuxes and gowns as they got their pictures made at different locations during the hours leading up to the prom.

One teen I talked to said he had nothing against Martin.

“I like girls, he likes boys, and you can’t stop a boy from what he likes,” he said.

Another teen said he felt “a bit awkward” about the situation, adding that homosexuality is against his religion. But he added he didn’t think anything would happen and he and his friends just planned to have a good time.

Some parents watching their children get their photos made on the beautiful campus of Middle Georgia College declined comment, but did say their children were going to the BCHS prom and not another prom that was rumored to be taking place. I could not get anyone to verify if another prom actually took place that night and there were no reports one did.

One prom photographer, who had been busy all day shooting photos, said he didn’t think it was a big deal for Martin to take his boyfriend to the prom. The photographer, who asked his name not be used in a story, said if the couple had come to his studio to have their pictures made he would have taken them without question.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” the photographer said. “It’s kind of a media circus more than anything.”

The photographer, born and raised in Cochran and who graduated from Bleckley County High School in 2000, said he believed other gay students had attended the prom in the past.

“This is the first really open couple we’ve had. We’ve had gay couples go before [to prom] … but I guess it’s more the fact people don’t want our little hick town to be seen as ‘pro-gay,’” he said.

He added the town had been quiet leading up to the prom and the story had pretty much died down by the day of the prom.

Here’s how Martin remembered the night in his own words:

So here is part on of a little “memoir” I am writing to just show how the night was and how I felt. Thanks to everyone who donated, or even just send me words of support and advice.

So its all over… I fought the fight, got the fame, and in the end was with the one I love on the one night I felt mattered most. The night was amazing.

We did everything you could really ask to do on a prom night. We got our tuxes together. Getting dressed up and coming out of that dressing room to see him standing there waiting in his, it had me in tears in the dressing room afterwards.

We went to dinner, just us two, his mom and dad, and my dear friend and close mentor Arturo. Then the time came for the walkthrough. The whole town turned out this year, and we were both making ourselves sick thinking of all the outcomes. Arturo gave us some much needed advice as we pulled up, “enjoy the night, and don’t let anything get you down. This night is yours, you have earned it. Be safe.” With that, we stepped out of the safety of our rental car, and into the spotlight.

All eyes were on us as we walked to the podium, and the start of the “red carpet”. As Mrs. Masters announced our arrival, the crowd turned to recognize us. I braced myself for an onslaught of hate and shouting, but what we were greeted with surprised me more than I ever could have imagined. When she called out my name, and we began to walk to the door, it wasn’t disapproval that came our way, but an outpouring of support. People I didn’t even know were there just cheering for us, smiling and telling us things like, “be true” and “keep on baby”. I couldn’t even believe it. All this time I had considered all of the bad things that could have happened, but I never gave a second thought to the night actually going perfectly.

As we walked through the doors to the school, I looked back for only a second. In that mass of people, some I knew and some I didn’t, there was something missing. As I lay here thinking over it, I realize what it was that I felt absent: Family… My dad was there to help park cars and monitor the prom itself, but as we got out of the car he wouldn’t even look at me. My mom was at home, she sent the tickets I gave her back… When I looked out on all those people, all I could think was “I wish my parents were there cheering with them…”

Prom itself was great. All my best friends were there. We danced like no one was watching, and when it came time for the senior slideshow I was exhausted. Sad music began to play as images moved onto the screens. Elementary school pictures went first, we laughed at how ridiculous we looked back then and were amazing at just how much we as a group had changed. Middle school pictures next, I laughed at my ridiculous hairstyle, a flat top to begin 8th grade and a foux hawk to end it. High school pictures began to play and indicated the beginning of the end. I looked over at my best friends and realized that this night was the last real time we would all be together. Sure we have 4 weeks of school remaining, but as the year comes to a close… stresses of the end tend to tie up a person’s time…

Martin and Goodman are expected to be attending the Atlanta Human Rights Campaign Gala on Saturday as well.


Photo courtesy Arturo Beéche