“It is time we stand up for what is right and support people who are being harmed. Every person on this planet has a right to be true to themselves, to love and be loved, and to be happy”.
A couple of weeks ago, I was given the rare opportunity to sit down and have a chin-wag with a bona-fide fully fledged gay icon.
Considered one of the top ten rugby players in the world, Ben Cohen is a champion for equality and the Chief Executive of the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, an organization that works to combat the lifelong effects of bullying. He’s also a model in his spare time; as you do.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect with my first meeting. Sportsmen are a bit out of my comfort zone and I always get a little bit gangly in the speech department when I’m in the company of good-looking men. Ask my husband. I’m like a muppet whenever he looks into my eyes. (Marriage saved). Now back to Mr Handsome.
As it turns out, he’s one of the humblest people I’ve met in a long time. He appreciates all he’s achieved, the platform he’s been given and adores his wife and kids. Family is key to what he’s doing with his life.
In November 2000, Cohen’s father Peter Cohen, was fatally injured while protecting an attack victim at the Eternity nightclub in Northampton which he managed. He died a month later from head injuries sustained in the assault. Three men were found guilty of violent conduct.
Reflecting on how that particular time impacted his life and that of his family he knew that he wanted to make a difference. He was also alarmed as more and more stories of injustice emerged.
“I’ve heard from many fans and friends how bullying has impacted their lives, and I am moved to make a difference for them. Parents have written to me, sharing painful stories about how their children, who might be perceived to be different, are ruthlessly attacked and scared of their own schools.
It is time we stand up for what is right and support people who are being harmed. Every person on this planet has a right to be true to themselves, to love and be loved, and to be happy”.
Without a doubt, Cohen is the sort of man that can make a difference. He’s already doing it. He believes that everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect and dignity and is more than comfortable with his status as a swoon-worthy pin up for the gays. He’s flattered by it, but most importantly, he knows its power.
Recounting the time when he discovered the value of the pink pound (or dollar to be more precise), his real currency took value when an image of him in just shorts hit a friends’ Facebook page. Within a few hours it had 39,000 ‘likes’, mostly from men. And not Rugby fans. So why is this relevant? The answer is simple.
It’s a source of income.
Over the next couple of years, Ben hopes to build a powerful social-commerce brand, like Livestrong or (RED), to unlock profits that are donated to help people who are bullied. Profits from his calendars, t-shirts, underwear and much more are shared with the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation which currently funds 13 projects in the UK and the US, all with an aim to reduce bullying by education, intervention and tackling injustices as they arise.
A quick glance at the foundations portfolio of philanthropy shows major support for Camp Pride, The Matthew Shepard Foundation, The Boys Club of New York, BeLong To, Bully Free Zone and other peer based schools initiative with genuine sustainable results.
Not bad for an organization still in it’s infancy, and looking at his board of directors, with representation from Microsoft, Coke, The CDC, It Gets Better and the Scissor Sisters, it’s clear that the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation isn’t even touching the sides of what it will eventually do for every single one of us that’s ever been made to feel that we’re wrong for whatever our difference is.
As for why I actually met him, that’s a very big but brilliant secret; one I’ll keep you informed of in the coming months.
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