Students protest Bleckley prom decision

COCHRAN — A small group of Bleckley County High School students staged a rally at the courthouse Thursday evening to protest their high school allowing a gay student to take his boyfriend to the prom.

Bleckley school system officials last week granted senior Derrick Martin permission to take another boy to prom. The decision marked the first decision in the county’s history about a same-sex couple attending the prom there.

“We knew Derrick was gay,” said Keith Bowman Jr., a high school senior who showed up at the rally. “They don’t want (Cochran) to be known as a pro gay town.”

Most of the dozen attending the rally said they weren’t bothered by Martin being gay or being allowed to attend prom with his partner. But they said the school system’s decision has brought too much attention to their small town.

“People who don’t know the area will think it reflects on everybody,” said John Smith, a grandfather who owns an air-conditioning business in Cochran.

Before he stopped by the rally, he asked county officials Thursday if a separate prom could be held at the city’s recreation center, he said.

The rally’s organizer, Amber Duskin, sent text messages to high school students Wednesday asking them to show up.

The senior said she asked her high school to return her prom ticket money and does not plan to attend 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.”

A group of college students also stopped by the rally but not to protest.

“We’re for it,” said Carly Nobles, a Middle Georgia College student. “It takes a lot for someone to come out (as gay).

“This is a small town. Some of these students are sheltered, and I don’t think they can think for themselves.”

Martin said talk at school Thursday was that the prom committee may do away with the traditional “walk through” when students and their dates are announced as they enter the prom.

He’s also heard some students are trying to have a separate prom.

As a result of the media attention, Martin’s parents have kicked him out of their home, and he’s staying with a friend in Cochran.

Martin’s father is a math teacher at Bleckley County High and is the school’s Teacher of the Year.

“I think his dad is embarrassed,” said sophomore Brittany Bohannon. As school faculty were introduced at an unrelated motivational speaking event Thursday, Martin’s father attended but stood in the background, she said. “People thought it was OK I was going to prom but not OK with me telling anybody,” Derrick Martin said Thursday. “All this media attention has gotten people scared Cochran is an openly gay community.”

Martin said the rally has not changed his plans to attend the prom with his boyfriend, Richard Goodman, of Tifton.

But Martin said he might not talk to media until after the prom to help minimize the attention that so many feel is unwelcome.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.

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