Val Marmillion and Juan Pisani held a special reception at their home Sunday evening, in honor of ex-rugby player, Ben Cohen. Cohen, the first straight, male, celebrity athlete to fight for LGBT rights, spoke to us candidly about his reasons for championing his StandUp Foundation, the first of its kind dedicated to anti-bullying. The event was catered by J. Marks restaurant.
Cohen spent most of his rugby career keeping a “relaxed, level-thinking field.” He adheres to this same principal in advocating for the acceptance of all perceived as different from the rest. He was not bullied as a youth, nor was he ever considered an outsider. It’s for this reason, though, that he started this foundation.
“Rugby made me the person I am today. I learned to respect my team as a family,” he said. “Teams are supposed to be inclusive of everyone. Because I wasn’t bullied, and because I’m not gay, is precisely the reason I ought to be doing this.”
One of the goals of Cohen’s Foundation is to educate teachers and coaches of the danger in bullying and the reason it doesn’t fit with the team model.
“I went and spoke recently to 50 people in the sports industry and explained to them why teams fail. The ones that fail are not inclusive of others,” he said.
Although he admits that many teachers, coaches, and athletes have “shackles” around their feet when it comes to the issue of homophobia, he says that anti-bullying is simply this: “common courtesy that costs nothing.”
Cohen admits that he’s comfortable with his heterosexuality and that his comfort is transformative. His wife, another advocate and friend of the LGBT community, supports his efforts.
Rugby is a chapter in Cohen’s life that he was happy to end. He actually entered the profession by accident, and although he enjoyed this tackling career, he’s glad it is over.
“I’m no longer a warrior in the physical sense. I won every trophy I could. My values are now different,” he said.
Bullying is something he cannot accept in this world because it is “persistent, consistent, and repetitive.” That’s why he especially taps into the “moveable middle”--open-minded, carefree individuals, who understand the current need to “kick homophobia out” with a strong network, huge grants, and a persistent message.
Cohen’s next undertakings involve creating a type of Livestrong action and to support new educational software that can be used universally by educators and athletes.
During the program part of the evening, Val Marmillion, one of the hosts, made it clear how important the issue of anti-bullying should be. In relating to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s efforts, Marmillion made it clear there are differences between the ways in which kids cope with bullying.
Along the spectrum, he purports, gays have it the worse because they “...don’t have the comfort of going home and saying to their parents, ‘mommy and daddy’, I was called a ‘faggot’ today.’” Instead Cohen says, “These kids have to become new people all together, and this is much more frightening.”
Another host of the reception, Lumd Heinie, saw the need for this cause and the need to have Cohen in the community when a woman to whom he lives next door said her daughter was being bullied at school. Kids in this case also used the Internet as one of their strongest weapons.