Richard Goodman hopes to spend some quality time with his boyfriend this weekend, maybe catching a movie and hopefully looking for a tuxedo to wear to the prom. “He’s thinking black and white but I told him we should go and look to see what they have,” Goodman said in a phone interview.
Goodman, 18, is dating Derrick Martin, also 18. Martin made international headlines after receiving approval from school officials to bring Goodman to his senior prom, set for April 17 at Bleckley County High School in Cochran, Ga.
Cochran is a small middle-Georgia town with a population of approximately 5,000 people. Goodman is a senior at Tift County High School in Tift, Ga., about two hours south of Cochran. He and Martin talk regularly on the phone, but it’s been awhile since they’ve spent time together.
“If I’m lucky I see him once a month,” Goodman said. “I kind of feel like they’re pulling him away.”
They? The media?
“Yeah,” Goodman answers. “He’s gotten a lot of attention. I usually fly below the radar.”
Neither Martin nor Goodman predicted the attention their story would receive. Martin has given numerous newspaper, radio and television interviews, and is a major topic in the gay blogosphere. Martin said he even got a call from Ellen DeGeneres asking him to come on her show.
And while Martin has been getting all the press, Goodman acknowledged he felt a little left out. After all, he is Martin’s boyfriend.
“It bothers me just slightly,” he said with a shy laugh.
Martin said he has been privately working on getting approval to bring Goodman to the prom since December. Bleckley Principal Michelle Masters at first told him it was not going to happen because it had never been done before and because the school “was not ready for it.”
“She gave several reasons but I wasn’t going to back down. I wasn’t confrontational, I was just telling the truth,” he said.
So Masters said she would take his request to the school board. The board met twice before following an attorney’s advice that there was no policy prohibiting Martin from bringing a same-sex date to his senior prom.
“It took them until the second Tuesday in March to approve but they said they were afraid for my safety,” Martin said.
And he does fear for his safety. He’s gotten one death threat from someone saying he better “watch his back.”
“What can you do? I don’t give them the satisfaction,” Matin said. “I do walk with a friend always and even put keys between my knuckles.”
Masters told the Macon Telegraph she could not turn down the request.
“You don’t have the right to say no,” Masters said. “As a principal, I don’t judge him. I’m taught not to judge. I have to push my own beliefs to the background.”
‘Bringing Bleckley into the gay era’
Martin is working with local gay activists to find security for his prom. Bleckley students held a rally at Cochran City Hall March 25 to protest the school’s decision to let him attend prom with his boyfriend, and now some of those students plan to hold an alternate prom.
Martin decided to go to the March 25 rally to see what was happening.
“I just wanted to show my face and show them I wasn’t afraid. They were saying I was bringing a bad name to Cochran,” he said. “They said I was bringing Bleckley County into the gay era.”
One reason the students gave for protesting was the claim that if Martin brought the county into the “gay era,” more gay people would move there.
“There were a lot of ignorant comments to be honest,” he said.
Bleckley senior Amber Duskin, who organized the rally and is leading a charge to have an alternate prom, told the Macon Telegraph she would not attend her senior prom because of Martin.
“I don’t believe in going up there and dancing with gay guys like that,” she said. “It’s also not just him bringing a boy. It was bringing all this attention to it.”
Martin said he confronted Duskin recently in the school cafeteria after she shouted at him and told other students to “come protest these queers.”
“She was talking bad stuff, saying she wishes we wouldn’t show up. You have to ignore people like that. She said I should just go with a girl. I was trying to figure out the mindset of these people,” he said. “She said I wasn’t a Christian. I went off, but you have to try to be nice.”
Martin has also endured name-calling — “queer” and “faggot” — by members of the baseball team.
“Sometimes you have to laugh and say, well, that’s true, what’s your point,” he said.
20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender FAMILY CONFLICT
50 percent of gay teens receive negative reaction from parents when they come out
26 percent of teens are kicked out of their home for coming out
Source: National Lesbian & Gay Task Force, 2007
Martin’s choice to fight for his right to take his boyfriend to the prom has inspired numerous activists and supporters from across the country to donate money to help him cover costs for his prom. Supporters have also launched two Facebook pages to back him and PFLAG Macon helped him set up a PayPal account.
“The only reason I set up a PayPal account is because the school was being inundated and my old house was being inundated. I’m not doing this for the money. The only thing I want is for people like me to know you can go to prom,” Martin said. “I didn’t go to the media first. This is not about money.”
Martin said he’s received several donations already.
Richard Goodman (Courtesy Photo)
“It’s more than I ever thought. It’s not a substantial amount, but definitely enough to make my prom amazing,” he said. “I’ve never been one to ask for help, I’ve always done things on my own, and now I’m relying on others — it’s all so new to me.”
Martin has promised 25 percent of the money he receives will go to Constance McMillen. Learning about McMillen, Mississippi lesbian whose prom was canceled by school administrators after she asked to bring her girlfriend as her date, made him continue to fight to bring his boyfriend to his prom.
“She was an inspiration for me,” he said. “And now my goal is to inspire others. I know what it’s like to be inspired.”
Locally, the Atlanta chapter of Sisters, which aspires to be a full house of the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, is also looking for ways to raise money for Martin and hopes to plan fundraisers in the near future.
“As soon as I read his story, it struck a chord with me,” said Rick Westbrook, aka Rapture Divine Cox.
“I’m from Cumming, Ga. I’m old school and never could have done what Derrick is doing. It does my heart good to see young people stand up.”
On March 26 and March 27, Martin was a guest of honor at the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus for the conclusion of its “Georgia on My Mind” tour. The renowned group brought Martin to the stage at Virginia Highland Church, praised his bravery, and named him an honorary member.
Martin sings baritone in his school’s show choir and said he was thrilled by the honor.
“It’s been surprising how many people care,” he said. “If I move to Atlanta I would definitely want to be part of the AGMC.”
While Goodman, who is also in his school’s show choir and plays the trumpet, is worried about his boyfriend’s safety, he is comforted by the number of Facebook fans on the page “We support Derrick Martin taking his boyfriend to the prom.” To date, there are close to 7,000 members.
“Cochran only has about 5,000 people. They could take over Cochran if they wanted,” Goodman said with a laugh. “It helps to know we are not alone.”
Problems at home
Martin’s parents kicked him out of his home after news broke in the Macon Telegraph and local TV news of him bringing Goodman to the prom. His father is a math teacher at Bleckley County High School and Martin says he still talks to him. His mother has pancreatitis and has been in and out of the hospital since he was a small boy, Martin said, which adds to the difficulty of their relationship.
“I had moved out one time before so I was a little prepared for it,” he said.
While he has personal feelings about what his parents have done, he is also a bit defensive when others criticize them.
“They’re still your parents, your family,” he said.
Martin said being kicked out of his home by his parents because of the media attention this story has garnered hasn’t dissuaded from being who he is.
“I know they had the right because it’s their house. Now I just want to get an apartment and then go to college,” he said.
Martin has a scholarship to Georgia Southern where he will be major in pre-law. Goodman hopes to go to Georgia Southern as well to study veterinary medicine.
Martin was told to leave his home March 23 when he returned there after tutoring at-risk students. His mother told him to leave.
“So I packed my stuff and left,” he said. “She said it was disrespectful of me” to interview with a local TV station. He is now staying with a female friend in Cochran.
His parents vehemently disapprove of Martin’s relationship with Goodman as well. The two have been dating nine months and when Goodman would drive to Cochran to visit he was never allowed to come to Martin’s house.
“One day his mother threatened to call the cops because I was in the yard,” Goodman said.
Martin said he came out a year-and-a-half ago. He told his best friend first. Then his parents found text messages he’d exchanged with a boy he was dating at the time.
“They knew something was up. I told them. Then they took my car, my iPod, my phone, my laptop — every way they could think of to try to keep me from communicating with him,” he said.
“It was really hard back then … but everything I’ve gone though has made me stronger.”
‘In the big picture, it’s a good first step’
Martin said he knew he was gay from a young age.
“Realizing it for myself was not hard,” he said. “I knew that I was more attracted to boys than girls — I knew that since the ninth grade. If you’re not attracted to girls, you’re not attracted to girls.”
Goodman also came to grips with being gay and came out when he was 17.
Goodman’s parents are very accepting of him being gay and his relationship with Martin.
“At first Momma wasn’t happy but she’s come around and now she’s great. She loves Derrick. My dad was always, ‘You are my son and I love you,’” Goodman said.
How the two young men met can be credited to Facebook.
“He randomly added me on Facebook. He said he was watching a movie with a character named Dick and he wanted a friend named Richard so he could call him that,” Goodman said. “We had a mutual friend — that’s how he came up with an excuse of why he added me.”
What does Goodman like about Martin?
“There’s so much, I don’t know how to narrow it down,” he said. “He’s smart, he’s funny and he knows how to take care of me when I need it.”
Martin plans on taking Goodman to a nice dinner the night of the prom, either in his 2007 Monte Carlo or a rented limousine.
“There was a time when I wasn’t sure I could go to the prom. But you can take your boyfriend or your girlfriend to prom even if you are gay,” he said.
“It’s prom. In the big picture, it’s a good first step,” Martin added. “Then someone else starts with marriage or any rights or anything that’s hard for us as a community to achieve.”
For Goodman, who has no desire to go to his high school prom, the night is important, but he also plans to have a good time.
“I think it could be fun. And I just want to go to the prom with Derrick,” he said.
Photo: High school senior Derrick Martin is making headlines for his decision to take his boyfriend to the prom. (By Shannon Jenkins / Offhand Photography)