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|Ben Cohen wants you to ‘StandUp’|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|October 12, 2012 00:00|
Ben Cohen’s rugged good looks, gregarious personality and prowess on the pitch easily won him gay fans, but it is his community activism that earned him a spot as one of two honorary grand marshals of the 2012 Atlanta Pride parade.
The former rugby star from England has made Atlanta almost a second home since deciding to base his StandUp Foundation here. He is considered the first straight athlete to dedicate his philanthropic efforts to combat LGBT bullying and eliminate homophobia in sports.
Founded in 2011, the StandUp Foundation has raised some $500,000 to donate to such organizations as Atlanta Field Day, the national Campus Pride, Bully Free Zone UK, Safety Center UK, Belong to Youth Services Ireland and a number of local schools and safety programs, according to Atlanta resident Patrick Davis, foundation president.
Cohen says he is looking forward to Atlanta Pride.
“It’s always nice to be recognized and it’s nice to see we are getting recognition for the work we do. And Atlanta is where the foundation was founded, so it’s always great to visit,” he said.
In addition to appearing in the parade, Cohen will attend a special fundraiser on Saturday night to benefit Atlanta Pride and the StandUp Foundation. Dubbed “Kiki by the Park,” the Oct. 13 event at the W Midtown includes exclusive Scissor Sisters remixes, kiki-inspired cocktails and a silent auction.
DJ Robin Skouteris will spin the official Scissor Sisters remix of “Let’s Have a Kiki,” created especially for Atlanta Pride and available worldwide next week.
New funds for LGBT causes
Cohen, who is straight and married with twin daughters, doesn’t hesitate to strip down to briefs as part of his 2013 calendar or sell the shirt off his back to the highest bidder at impromptu fundraisers at local bars.
His foundation has sealed significant deals with Nike and the Human Rights Campaign to sell merchandise, such as t-shirts, to fund the StandUp Foundation.
“We want to unlock a new revenue stream by selling our own merchandise,” Cohen explained. “And then that money goes to supporting organizations that don’t have much funding, who do low-key but important work. But we also support national organizations.”
The StandUp Foundation also teamed up with Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project and producers of “Wicked” to hold a special performance in New York on Oct. 11 to help raise funds to defeat bullying; the foundation also joined efforts with the “Wicked” production in the U.K. to provide guides to teachers to help end bullying in schools.
In addition, the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation is set to launch its new lifestyle magazine named, easily enough, “StandUp Magazine.” The magazine will feature interviews with sports figures who oppose homophobia and transphobia.
“I have the benefit of being part of two different worlds — Great Britain and the U.S.,” Cohen said.
“It can be very sad to hear the stories of young people who come out and then are not accepted by their parents,” he said. “For me, I’ve got a fantastic set of core values and I can’t understand how unconditional love can change when a child comes out.”
‘The right to love’
Cohen visits Atlanta regularly and attended last year’s Atlanta Pride parade, where he rode with the Atlanta Bucks, the city’s gay rugby club.
It’s not uncommon to see Cohen visiting local gay bars including the Atlanta Eagle and Mary’s as he works to raise funds for his foundation. As a straight man and a gay icon, Cohen said he’s comfortable with his sexuality as well as being the subject of gay fantasies as long as he can do good with his fame.
It was actually a Facebook page that was created years ago that tipped off Cohen that he was popular with gay men. After working with the Atlanta Bucks to kick off his foundation, Cohen has nothing but gratitude for all his fans.
“If people find me attractive and that helps them pay attention and hear my message of acceptance, then I am honored by it,” said Cohen, who is chair of the foundation, in a statement when his foundation was formed. “Every human being has the right to love and be loved, and I want to be a bridge between LGBT and straight communities to create a kinder world.”
Cohen’s drive to stop bullying stems from the death of his father, who was beaten to death in 2000 while trying to break up a bar fight.
The StandUp social-commerce brand is managed and licensed by Ben Cohen USA, Inc., his commercial enterprise.
“Like (RED), focused on AIDS, or Livestrong, focused on cancer, the StandUp brand engages the consumer marketplace to fund social change. StandUp is the first social-commerce brand developed for the benefit of LGBT people and the anti-bullying cause. Its profits will be shared with the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation,” according to a press release when the foundation was announced in May 2011.
For Cohen, it is also the story of bullying-related youth suicides that caused him to take up this cause for the LGBT community. He stressed he will always be grateful for the support he has received from his gay friends and fans.
“Without the gay community, we wouldn’t have a foundation,” he said.
Top photo: Ben Cohen, a former rugby star and current gay icon, founded his StandUp Foundation in Atlanta to combat bullying. (Publicity photo)
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