Queer as Folk/Showtime 2000
High School Senior Derrick Martin has been thrust into the public eye for daring to want to take his boyfriend to his Senior Prom in small town Macon Georgia. Like most high school students, Martin wanted to participate in the closing rituals of his secondary education with the person whom he loves. Every year 1000s of students across the country do the same thing without even thinking about it.
However, in the shadow of the now infamous Mississippi Prom cancellation, Martin thought he should ask whether or not he had the right to bring a same sex partner. Typing that question into the search engine of his computer began a public saga, first in his own county and then across the nation.
Miami Herald/Marice Cohn Band
As attention to his request gained momentum, Martin’s parents kicked him out of the house. While it is unclear whether or not they knew about their son’s sexuality prior, his parents went on record saying that they could not continue to have him in their house now that the town knew he was gay. Apparently the town of a few thousand is extremely conservative and several of the Macon’s business owners have gone on record saying they think Martin is going to hell. Others have actively lobbied the school claiming that it is unfair for Martin and his partner to attend prom while prayer is banned. On the upside, the most vehement homophobia seems to be coming from older adults indicating a generational shift despite the overall conservative milieu.
For Martin the situation has been both heartbreaking and galvanizing. While many in his town sit in judgment of him, people around the nation have expressed their support. There are websites and Prom expense donations pouring in. Martin never expected national attention but he also never thought he’d be alone. His parents kicking him out was unexpected, but worse for him, was the handful of closeted gay friends he has at school who have kept silent. Watching Martin become a lightening rod for adult homophobia has left most of them too scared to talk.
Despite these early lessons in oppression, Martin is lucky; While he can’t go home again, his best friend’s parents have taken him in. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, 40% of homeless youth in North America are queer and homeless because their parents or primary care provider no longer wanted them in their homes once they knew. Many of them have no where to go and end up on the street. As youth, they have limited access to shelter and shelter based services and are more vulnerable in already over taxed adult drop in centers and places that like queer appropriate services.
Georgia, where Martin lives, is one of many large cities where homelessness amongst queer youth has reached epidemic proportions. At the same time, there are services available for queer youth in Atlanta, including: The CHRIS (Creativity, Honor, Respect, Integrity, Safety) Kids Rainbow Program and the voucher program at Youth Pride. These are some of the only independent living programs in the Southeast region and as such are likely overtaxed. In other places, youth are not that lucky, there are no services or services are only funded after mainstream heterosexual communities become aware of the abuse youth suffer on the street.
Homofactus Press is shedding light on the connection between homelessness and queer identity amongst youth in an anthology entitled Kicked Out. The anthology brings together both provider stories and statistics with the voices of current and former LGBTQ homeless youth. The stories include creative (UPDATE: as in non-fiction written creatively END UPDATE) and regular non-fiction prose. The authors try to capture what it is like to be thrown away because of your gender or sexuality and often made into a statistic by journalists and providers alike.
I realize that it is prom season and that many same sex attracted teens are grappling with whether to pass or to risk everything. The decision and what it highlights about how the national conversation about desire, and the criminalization of queerness embedded within it, has created huge inequalities and potential for violence in the lives of our youth, is one we must have. Discussing the ways that school districts and parents police desire is a critical part of exposing the violence our children endure because of adults who don’t play well with others.
However, Martin’s story reminds us of another critical piece in the puzzle of oppression: how homophobia creates a huge exploitable population of homeless youth. It forces us to once again reframe the discourse of homelessness beyond that of choice or criminality. And it demands that we do more to support the growth and safety of youth in our educational system and in our homes. While people who supported prop 8 fretted over “homosexuality in the schools”, an issue was never on the table, none of them worried about what not having homosexuality in the schools would mean for the lives of LGBTQ youth. And while deep down they may not care, as we often say on the blog: oppression does not just oppress the targeted group, one needs only look at the straight kids who have committed suicide because of homophobic bullying or the relationships amongst larger community members that are destroyed over a handful of vehement conservative thinkers to know everyone suffers gay or straight. So, while I don’t want to distract from the conversations about Prom and making sure that these teens who have skyrocketed to national interest have good ones, I do think that Martin’s case provides us with the opportunity to think about and do more than help pay for his limo.
- To draw attention to their stories, Homofactus has started a blog for the book that will be featuring each of the authors every day this month.
- You’ll note I do not have a picture of Martin on this post; I have serious concerns about the national circulation of his image in the climate we live in, and as you know, when I have these concerns or concerns about consent we do not publish images of youth