CHARLOTTE — English World Cub Rugby Champion visited the Queen City in early October to spread a message of acceptance, inclusion and civility.
His visit, just one stop in a slew of others on his American tour, raised awareness for his StandUp Foundation and the Charlotte-based Campus Pride, one of its beneficiaries. While in town, Cohen visited with community members and helped to lead students at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in a special National Coming Out Day celebration.
qnotes got the opportunity to sit down with Cohen and discuss the purpose of his work, his foundation and his cause. The conversation is especially poignant today, as millions don purple-colored clothing and ribbons in recognition of Spirit Day.
Cohen has become one of globe’s most outspoken advocates against bullying. His foundation works with a variety of organizations in the U.S. and the U.K.
“Bullying is a global issue,” Cohen says, though noting differences between the U.S. and his home country. “England has its issues, obviously, but it is more accepting toward the gay community.”
A straight ally and champion sportsman, Cohen’s position on bullying and LGBT acceptance has caused a ripple effect. On college campuses, he says, straight students who might not have thought about these issues find themselves confronted with a powerful message.
“It’s about standing up against bullying full-stop,” he says. “When anyone gets bullied for any reason, it’s about standing next to that person. It’s not even about saying anything, just standing next to that person.”
In particular, Cohen hopes messages of inclusion take hold in the athletic community.
“Homophobia in sport is big in the states,” he says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we know that there is a tipping point at the moment. We want the StandUp Foundation to be a major part of that.”
To accomplish his mission, Cohen has teamed up with organizations he says are already doing good work on the ground. His foundation’s goal is to raise awareness on the issues and open up new revenue streams for its beneficiaries, including Campus Pride, the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Trevor Project. In the U.K., his foundation works with the government and Stonewall UK.
Ultimately, Cohen says collaboration will be the key to stopping bullying.
“We’re not about finger-pointing; it all comes down to the individual,” he says. “We are trying to move the movable middle to get them to say, ‘You know what, bullying is wrong.’ We want to bring attention to what bullying does across the board.”
He adds, “This is about civility and manners. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to one another.”