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When the once and future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was rising through the bodybuilding ranks to stardom, he took the large gay fan following he had as a compliment, but he never actively marketed to those men or spoke out on the everyday dangers they faced in their lives. Count rugby player Ben Cohen as a new generation and breed of straight male sports celebrities: one who is not only willing to speak up, but to build his professional life around doing so.
And it all pretty much started with a few bare-chested photos of burly Ben.
"A lot of my followers were gay," Cohen said of his fan base during his career as a superstar rugger in Great Britain. "There were a lot of different stories I heard from them about their lives and about their family difficulties."
Stories about being bullied in school because of others' perceptions of their masculinity and sexual orientation. Stories about bullying that led to isolation and suicide. The tales of senseless violence and loss of life hit home with Cohen, whose own father was killed after defending a man in his family-owned bar.
So Cohen, whose popularity really soared when he started publishing calendars in 2009 that featured photo spreads of him, often sans shirt, decided to do something about it. Knowing how important family and kids were to him in his life, he started the Ben Cohen Stand-Up Foundation, with a campaign to end bullying. The foundation, as well as wrestler Hudson Taylor's advocacy for LGBT equality and his Athlete Ally Pledge, are at the forefront of an unprecedented wave of outspokenness from heterosexual athletes for LGBT acceptance.
Cohen will be honored as a special guest Saturday, October 22, at the 27th annual Bay Area gala dinner and auction for the Human Rights Commission in recognition of his game-changing advocacy.
"They do fantastic work," Cohen said of HRC, the nation's largest LGBT organization. "I am so proud to be honored."
Cohen's foundation's business model is less about chasing down funding and more about building a brand and encouraging others to be visible and vigilant in their support of LGBT individuals and intolerance for intolerant violence.
Information on the foundation and merchandise such as "I Stand Up" T-shirts are available at http://www.standupfoundation.com. Information on Athlete Ally is available at http://www.athleteally.com Information on the HRC gala is available at http://www.hrc.org/events/entry/san-francisco-bay-area-annual-gala-dinner.
Like an unwanted virgin
The Catholic League has asked the NFL to uninvite recovering Catholic Madonna from performing at Super Bowl XLVI, in effect saying that having Madonna perform at halftime would be inconsistent with the NFL's previous acquiescence to homophobic religious pressure.
Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, issued a press release earlier this month lambasting reports that the NFL might invite the performer to perform at halftime in the 2012 Super Bowl, then followed up with a brief letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week. In the letter, Donahue wrote that if Madonna were invited, "Christians (especially Catholics) would have every reason to complain. It would not only expose a double standard â€" it would be seen as a slap in their face. And from the response we have garnered, it seems plain that many would be offended."
In the October press release, Donahue said, "For decades, Madonna has blatantly offended Christians, especially Catholics. The offensive lyrics, lewd behavior and misappropriation of sacred symbols are reason enough not to have her perform. Worse, she has repeatedly mocked the heart and soul of Christianity: Jesus, Our Blessed Mother, the Eucharist and the Crucifixion."
This is the third time reports have surfaced of Madonna being considered for the Super Bowl, following non-appearances in 1998 and 2002.
In asking the NFL to yield to its pressure, the Catholic League cited the 2004 Pro Bowl, when the NFL withdrew its invitation to 'N Sync's JC (Jesus Christ?) Chasez. Chasez told the NFL he planned to sing "Some Girls (Dance with Women)," which, as it turns out, did not refer to the Catholic nuns dancing together in the movie Sister Act .
"Chasez may be known for some dicey lyrics, but he is chopped meat compared to Madonna," Donahue said. "If JC Chasez is unacceptable to the NFL to perform during halftime at one of its classic games, Madonna must be deemed unacceptable to perform at the Super Bowl."
Perhaps we can start a rumor that Madonna will be replaced by George Michael. Or, if it is Madonna, per se, to which the Catholic League objects, perhaps the NFL could request a live recreation of the rendition of Like a Virgin from the movie Moulin Rouge. The dance number by the waiters in that alone would be worth the ticket price.
Niners to lead the way for NFL in It Gets Better videos?
The San Jose Sharks may have ice in their ears, but the stage seems primed for the San Francisco 49ers â€" the division-leading 5-1 Niners, I might add â€" to become the first NFL team to make an anti-bullying It Gets Better video.
The 49ers had told Channel 5 earlier that they had not received a formal request to make such a video but likely would if they received such a request. Sean Chapin, whose online petition with Change.org led the World Champion San Francisco Giants to make a video, followed by seven other Major League Baseball teams, now has an online petition asking the Niners to follow suit. As of Monday, the petition, at http://www.change.org/petitions/49ers-please-make-an-it-gets-better-video, had a reported 7,000 signatures.
The Sharks had declined a similar request, saying they were too busy. Who knows: maybe they just didn't hear the request, what with Madonna blasting in their earbuds.
Gay Games annual meeting
The annual meeting for the membership assembly of the Federation of Gay Games is scheduled to be held October 23-25 in Toronto (See September 29 Jock Talk http:http://ebar.com/columns/column.php?sec=sports&id=360). It will be preceded by closed meetings of the FGG board of directors, and the new board will meet the day after the assembly meeting, Wednesday, October 26.
Some meeting information is publicly available at http://www.gaygames.com. Even before the opening gavel, numerous delegates and honorary lifetime members have been raising concerns about the drafted agenda. Among the scheduling oddities are having board elections almost at the beginning of the three-day meeting rather than at the end, where they have been in previous assembly meetings. Having them at the end, some of the delegates have noted, would actually allow delegates to see incumbents and candidates in action, speaking at the meeting on things such as their stances on the One Quadrennial Event proposals, before having to cast their votes. Several of the delegates are new to the board and would in effect be voting blindly if the elections are at the start. This may be a particularly thorny issue because minutes of board meetings and past general assembly meetings were not readily accessible until in some cases October 19 â€" less than a week before the start of the meeting.
Also objectionable to several delegates is the scheduling of assembly discussions on 1QE â€" the name applied to an initiative to try to retool the Gay Games and the World Outgames into a single quadrennial event with the human rights component inherent in past Gay Games sports and cultural events elevated into a separate component â€" before the actual presentation from the 1QE working group is made. Requests have been made both to expand the time allotted for discussion and for moving the report presentation to a slot before the discussions.
I should note that I have been criticized by some board members of "abusing" my roles as journalist and Gay Games volunteer for writing about these issues, for declaring my position on several matters, and have even been accused of using leaked "confidential" board information.
For the record, I have not reported any confidential information. The discussions and documents I have reported on have been publicly accessible through the FGG assembly. I feel very passionately that this is an abuse of neither my role as a volunteer nor as a sports columnist, but rather a fulfillment of the obligations in both roles to encourage a robust, candid and informed discussion with my fellow LGBT athletes.
Before the 2007 reorganization of the FGG, board meetings were open to the public except for limited in-camera sessions. Board meetings are now listed as being closed, no reason given. If the FGG truly wants to be perceived as a transparent organization open to the concerns of its constituents, the meetings should be open and attendance by public and news media encouraged.