- Posted July 12, 2010 by
East Richmond Heights, California
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Teen Driven from Home for Going Gay to Prom Founds Support Group
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Richmond, CA – “Thanks to the kindness of strangers I survived abandonment for the ‘crime’ of being gay and young,” said Derrick Martin, announcing the launch of a new organization to help LGBTQ youths. When Martin decided to take another male as date to his high school prom in Cochran, Georgia earlier this year. “If I have anything to say about it, no one else will ever have to go through what I did. Project LifeVest is my ‘give back’ for the critical help caring people around the country extended to me when I needed it."
“I believe there are kids out there like me who need the help, and I now know there are people who will come to the rescue when called. Project LifeVest (http://www.projectlifevest.org) will put those in need together with those who can help.”
The new organization, to be based in Statesboro, Georgia, will concentrate on helping young people who are experiencing, or in fear of, discrimination because of sexual orientation get whatever resources they need to cope with the challenges they face. That help may range from making sure a closeted youngster has somebody to talk with confidentially to get through a lonely night or an intimidating social situation, to re-locating someone who can’t stay where they’ve been living any longer because they face physical or psychological abuse, to making sure that kids have access to information about HIV or drug abuse prevention.
The plight Derrick Martin found himself in when he decided to invite his boyfriend to his senior prom at Bleckley County High School in the town of Cochran, Georgia, could happen almost anywhere in America. In the end, it was not the school refused to sanction Derrick’s choice of a date, but his own parents. Their moral convictions prompted them to inflict the very punishment LGBTQ children too often live in fear of, from the moment they recognize their same-gender attraction or traditional-gender non-conformity; parental condemnation, rejection and expulsion – loss of family, just at the time when a teenager’s sense of personal identity is apt to feel most at risk.
But once the conflict became public, Derrick found himself in the midst of a national crusade, nearly overwhelmed by media coverage, positive and negative, but buoyed up by the messages of respect and support he received from around the country. The prom went off virtually without a hitch and is now part of LGBTQ history, becoming not only a lesson in tolerance for a community, but a blueprint for LGBTQ young people to stand up for themselves and get help in overcoming obstacles to living open and honest lives.
An alphabet soup of LGBTQ-supportive organizations rode in like the cavalry, from PFLAG to HRC, offering resources and expertise, along with encouragement came from individuals, such as Arturo Beeche and David Higdon, a married couple, who welcomed him into their home to meet their 13 year-old son and spend the summer with their family in Richmond, California. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) proved invaluable in rallying support and handling the media. The result was that Derrick Martin found himself an unexpected spokesperson for the unmet needs of young LGBTQ people throughout the United States and much of the world, and an example of how homophobic challenges can be defeated with candor, courage and connections. He now wants to be one of those connections, funneling his renown as a living success story through a support organization run by and for young LGBTQ men and women.
“My situation and the attention it has drawn have provided me a unique perspective and opportunity that I feel I cannot pass up”, Martin noted. “Young people who, like myself, have been disadvantaged because of discrimination, hate, or ignorance need somewhere to turn for help. GLAAD was my life vest, and I plan to be a life vest to as many others as I can. I only want those who face obstacles like mine to know that they are not alone, for everyone has the right to love regardless of sexual orientation.”
Project LifeVest’s mission is simple: “To be a helping hand, a life vest, to as many LGBTQ teens and adults as possible. We will carry out this mission through the establishment of safe places in as many cities as possible; through a call center with a qualified team of counselors who can give advice where needed; through screening a network of families who can, when need arises, host rejected teens while they finish schooling or find a new home.”