Eye candy of the day: Ben Cohen

Just in time for our summer sports edition, a little treat for fans of gay-friendly rugby star Ben Cohen, from the photoshoot for his new calendar. I’ve met Cohen; he really is as dreamy as he appears. Sigh. And check out our stories about a local gay Olympic torchbearer, a new gay basketball league & more.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pro hockey players make sport gay-inclusive

The British rugby star Ben Cohen, pictured, has been the most public straight sports superstar to show support for the gay community and end bullying and homophobia in sports. But even Cohen had retired before he dedicated himself to the cause, and he is European. Which might make the You Can Play project a first: active American and Canadian ice hockey players making public service announcements in support of gay inclusion in sports.

The project was inspired after NHL general manager Patrick Burke’s brother came out as gay. When he was killed in a 2010 accident, Burke (now at the Toronto Maple Leafs) co-founded the project, which has as its mission creating a homophobia-free environment to allow gay players to know their straight teammates will accept them.

You can see some of the videos here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Making a difference

When Dallas resident David McCrory learned of the plight of a homeless gay teen in Colorado and tried to help, he discovered he could help make things better, but it wasn’t easy

McCrory.David

David McCrory

Draconis von Trapp  |  Intern
intern@dallasvoice.com

One person can make a difference.
It’s been said a million times, and while some believe the old adage, some are still skeptical.
David McCrory used to be one of those skeptics.
But McCrory, a gay man who works for Dermalogica and a native New Orleanian who moved to Dallas from Los Angeles, discovered a whole new perspective after he helped a 19-year-old boy from committing suicide — from two states away.
McCrory moved to Dallas for his job and ended up participating with the Human Rights Campaign’s entry in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade this year for the first time. The parade featured British ex-rugby star Ben Cohen, who founded the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation that focuses on battling bullying and homophobia in schools.
After working with Cohen, McCrory started paying attention to the StandUp Foundation’s Facebook page, and that’s where he happened upon a post about how Jamey Rodomeyer, a young gay boy, had committed suicide.
As with most celebrity Facebook updates, there are usually several hundred comments. McCrory, usually not one to bother reading those comments, decided this time to take a look at the feedback.

“I was just browsing through the comments and I noticed this post from A.J.,” McCrory said. “And I guess it was the timing, having just read about Jamey, that I felt like I needed to reach out to him.”

A.J. had commented about how he felt that his only option was to end his life, saying that he was homeless just because of his sexual orientation. He said that he didn’t want to kill himself, but he didn’t know what else to do.

The comment was left in the morning on Sept. 21. It only took 30 minutes for someone to respond to A.J.’s post, recommending that he call the Trevor Project. But it took another eight hours for someone to proactively do something about it.

McCrory, after reading and responding to A.J.’s comment, emailed Cohen’s manager, Jill Tipping, confirming that both she and Cohen had read that post and responded to A.J. with suicide hotline numbers and contact information for different organizations that could help.

Feeling that more needed to be done, McCrory added A.J. as a friend on Facebook, started emailing him with reassuring messages and exchanging phone numbers with the young man.

After feeling out A.J.’s situation a little more, McCrory discovered that the teen had been living on a park bench for two days with no food after an altercation with his father.

“I left Colorado to go to Michigan to get in touch with my family there,” A.J. explained. “That kinda went south, so I came back to live with my father and things were fine.”

But the next day his father started questioning A.J.’s orientation. While A.J. had been out to his friends, he hadn’t yet come out to his family and wasn’t sure how they would take it. While he figured they would react negatively, he said, “I didn’t expect it to go as far as it did.”

After that, AJ’s father told him to leave.

McCrory said he did contact the Trevor Project, and while they were friendly and helpful, ultimately they could do nothing for A.J. immediately.

They provided some more contact information for organizations and crisis intervention programs in A.J.’s area — and that was the end of it.

McCrory said he tried all the contacts that were given to him but had little to show for it. Most numbers led to voice mailboxes and the one immediate crisis line he contacted could only help by advising he call the police.

At this time it was starting to rain where A.J. was, and McCrory was running out of options.

Finally, using his hotel points, McCrory booked a room for A.J. at a Marriott Hotel and, after discussing A.J.’s situation with the manager, was given the room for free as well as two meal vouchers so A.J. could eat that night and the next morning.

With cab services refusing credit card numbers over the phone and the police being short staffed, McCrory’s cousin used her credit card to have a driving service fetch A.J.

The next day McCrory tried to contact the LGBT community center in Colorado, but never got through to anyone. In a moment of clarity, it occurred to him that most towns had an LGBT-friendly church, and upon researching it, he found one close by A.J.’s location.

The Metropolitan Community Church’s pastor, Weff Mullins, provided McCrory with more up-to-date, reliable resources for A.J. and welcomed the teen into the service that Sunday.

One reputable organization Pastor Mullins recommended was Inside/Out Youth Services, which McCrory contacted, finally talking to someone who was able to get the ball rolling on providing A.J. with housing, therapy and a job to help him get back on his feet.

It was the help the young man needed.

A.J. has been living for free at a hotel since then and said that he has a brighter outlook on his future — one that doesn’t include suicide.

“I’m actually much better than I was before,” he said. “I’m mostly stable now and I’m pretty good.”

A.J. and McCrory have kept in contact and often talk on the phone.

“He’s a good kid,” McCrory said. “It’s pretty amazing that we’ve gotten so close and we’ve never met. I never thought that I would be helping someone out of a crisis situation like this.”

McCrory’s company has since made a $1,000 donation to Inside/Out Youth Services, which is being matched by the Gill Foundation, along with $100 from one of McCrory’s coworkers.

They worked together to get some Wal-Mart gift cards so A.J.could buy some clothes for himself.

“Plus, being gay, you know he will need some beauty products,” McCrory joked.

McCrory said that his involvement in helping A.J. has opened his eyes to how influential one person can be when they simply take the initiative to care.

Working with A.J. has furthered his inspiration to start a non-profit organization through Resource Center Dallas that features a 24/7 crisis center for teenagers who need help.

“It really blew my mind that there is a missing link in that chain, like you can get counseling over the phone, but you can’t get help after hours,” McCrory said incredulously.

“You can have a crisis as long as it’s within business hours.”

McCrory also said that had A.J. been underage, this whole thing could have ended up a lot worse. Due to the possible liabilities in dealing with a minor, most people don’t want to deal with them — and they can’t check into hotels alone. The only thing left to do would have been to call the cops and let Child Protective Services handle it, “which is kind of shocking,” McCrory said.

“I thought it was kind of an amazing story that select people think there’s nothing you can do,” McCrory said. “But it takes one small step of doing something that, as little as it may be, it could be the one thing that changes that one life, really.”

In the Dallas area, Promise House in Oak Cliff is a shelter for LGBT teens in crisis. They have a 24-hour crisis line that can be called at 1-866-941-8578. They are located on 224 W. Page Ave. and provide crisis intervention services along with case management, counseling, emergency and long-term shelter as well as advocacy and outreach.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Tea Party turns again to dirty tricks

Waxahachie Republican comes under fire from potential opponents over vote for anti-bullying bill and his connection with fundraiser for anti-bullying foundation

VIEWPOINTS-Pitts.Jim
TEA PARTY TARGET | Waxahachie Republican state Rep. Jim Pitts, left, talks with Waco Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson during proceedings in the Texas Legislature in January, 2010. Members of the Tea Party are said to be targeting Pitts for defeat in 2012 after Pitts voted in favor of anti-bullying legislation this year, and reportedly hoped to use. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Politics just don’t seem to get any nastier than they do in Texas, judging from a group of Texas Tea Party members’ apparent plans to exploit an appearance in Dallas by an internationally known anti-bullying champion.

The Tea Party members reportedly hope a planned appearance by British rugby star Ben Cohen this month at the Dallas gay rights parade can be used as a weapon against an incumbent Texas state representative in the Republican Primary.

The legislator, state Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Cohen’s anti-bullying StandUp Foundation on Sept. 16, prior to the rugby player’s appearance as a VIP guest at the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sept. 19.

Cohen, 33, retired from professional rugby in May of this year to focus on the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation he created to combat homophobia and bullying. As an athlete he represented the brands Brive and Sale Sharks. He is married to a woman and has twin children.

In November 2000, Cohen’s father Peter Cohen was killed while protecting an attack victim at a nightclub he managed in Northampton, England. He died a month later from head injuries. Three men were found guilty of the violence.

Cohen — a World Cup winner who is straight but has many gay fans — has said in interviews the stories he heard from gay people about being bullied and feeling suicidal as a result of the violence they experienced drew him to the issue years ago.

The Dallas fundraiser, organized by a gay resident, was scheduled to take place at Pitts’ Highland Park home. It was relocated after published reports created controversy, and news of the uproar reached Cohen’s representatives.

The situation nearly derailed Cohen’s planned four-day visit to Dallas, according to the organizers.

The sports star’s representatives reportedly wanted no association with Texas’ volatile political climate, made infamous in recent years by ultra-conservative, anti-gay Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Tea Party members learned about Cohen’s planned appearances when Dallas Voice published a report about them online.

At one point, the agitators who had heard about the report but couldn’t find it online, erroneously claimed that the newspaper had pulled the story in an effort cover up Pitts’ involvement with the fundraiser.

The Tea Party members antics came to light when they twice asked Joey Dauben, the publisher of the conservative Ellis County Observer website, to reach out to a Dallas Voice writer he knew for information.

In the last communication, the Tea Party members wanted to know if the newspaper or any other organization would be taking pictures at the fundraiser that they would be able to obtain for use against Pitts in a campaign.

The Tea Party members’ supporters reportedly have no plans to demonstrate at the event or crash it.

Pitts reportedly is being targeted by Tea Party members because he advocated the passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and voted in favor of two measures backed by Equality Texas. The legislator reportedly offered the use of his home for the fundraiser because of his interest in the issue.

Although Pitts backed the anti-bullying measures, he has been criticized by LGBT advocates for voting to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses. That has left some observers puzzled by the Tea Party members’ tactics.

Dauben said that his criticism on his blog is more motivated by Pitts’ apparent residency in Dallas when he represents Waxahachie, rather than his participation in the fundraiser.

Two Texas Tea Party members, Linda Bounds and T.J. Fabby, have announced plans to oppose Pitts, who has been in office since 1992, according to the Ellis County Observer. It appears the two candidates and their supporters are willing to do just about anything to get one of them elected.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fundraiser for gay Pride VIP’s foundation moved from Republican Texas lawmaker’s home

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie

A fundraiser for British rugby star Ben Cohen’s anti-bullying foundation has been moved from the home of a Republican Texas lawmaker, after an Instant Tea post about the event stirred controversy Thursday.

Jeff Hickey, a gay Dallas resident who’s organizing the Sept. 16 fundraiser for Cohen’s StandUp Foundation, said he chose to move the event from the Highland Park home owned by State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

Cohen’s foundation is focused on combating anti-gay bullying, and two days after the fundraiser Cohen will be a special VIP guest at Dallas’ gay Pride parade. Rep. Pitts, meanwhile, has an anti-gay voting record and supported an effort to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses in Texas earlier this year.

“It created a firestorm politically,” Hickey said of the Instant Tea post, written by Daniel Williams. “Within one day, it was diverting all the attention and resources.

“Within the course of just a couple hours, it made it’s way to London and Austin and all over the place,” Hickey added. “The entire message was lost, and that was extremely disappointing to a lot of people.”

Hickey said the post prompted Cohen’s representatives in London to contact him, and at one point the rugby star’s entire four-day visit to Dallas was in jeopardy.

“Ben’s got a very sensitive brand and a very popular international brand, and they’re not interested in that brand being messed up in Texas politics,” Hickey said.

HIckey said it was an “unfortunate situation” and he understands both sides of the issue, including Instant Tea’s desire to report on the issue. He also said he was “very honored” that Pitts offered to host the event and noted that the state representative voted in favor of two anti-bullying measures backed by Equality Texas in this year’s session.

Asked how Pitts came to host the fundraiser in the first place, Hickey said, “I was approached by some people that said we could possibly do it at his house.” But Hickey declined to say who those people were or elaborate. Pitts hasn’t returned a phone call seeking comment.

Hickey said the fundraiser will now be held at a private residence in Oak Cliff. Anyone interested in attending can email info@dallasstandsup.com.

—  John Wright

Is a Republican Texas lawmaker about to host a fundraiser for the VIP of the gay Pride parade?

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie

Dallas’ LGBT Pride parade, the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, is Sept. 18. The parade’s “special VIP Guest” is English rugby star Ben Cohen, whose StandUp Foundation works to raise awareness of the long-term damaging effects of bullying. Cohen, who is straight, was inspired to create the foundation after hearing from LGBT friends about the difficulties they experienced. “I am passionate about standing up against bullying and homophobia in sports,” says Cohen, “and feel compelled to take action. It is time we stand up for what is right and support people who are being harmed.”

In honor of Cohen the week leading up to the parade, Sept. 12-16, has been declared “Stand Up Against Bullying Week” in Dallas. According to this Facebook event the week will culminate in a fundraiser for the StandUp Foundation on Friday night at the Highland Park home of Jim Pitts.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a 20-year Republican member of the House … which begs the question of whether the Jim Pitts who is hosting Cohen’s event is the same Jim Pitts who supported efforts this last session by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas college campuses.

A search of the Dallas County Central Appraisal District’s website indicates that the address given for the fundraiser is owned by Pitts 2007 Properties LTD, which is a subsidiary of Pitts Property Management LLC, which is owned by none other than Jim R. Pitts, the honorable representative from House District 10.

So it seems that Rep. Pitts is, indeed, hosting the event: for which I give him kudos. The StandUp Foundation does good work and Ben Cohen is, by all accounts, a fierce advocate for the LGBT community. Hosting the event is in keeping with Pitts’ voting record this last session, when he voted for both HB 1942 (the “super” anti-bullying bill) and HB 1386 (the teen suicide prevention bill).

I would ask, however, that Rep. Pitts consider his votes on other issues and how they affect bullying in Texas schools. It’s not enough to say that LGBT kids shouldn’t be bullied or harassed if your actions tell their tormentors that LGBT kids aren’t as deserving of respect or resources as other people. There is a direct line running through Christian’s statements on the House floor calling LGBT people disgusting and the middle school student who punches an effeminate child for being a “fag.” When Pitts fails to stand up to the former he enables the later. This inconsistency, this willful refusal to see the systemic discrimination faced by LGBT adults as the license that allows the torture of LGBT children, is, in ways both figurative and literal, killing our children — and it has to end.

Instant Tea has left a message with Pitts’ legislative office seeking to confirm that he plans to host a fundraiser for Cohen’s foundation. We’ll let you know what we find out.

—  admin

‘In the Life’ premieres episode about homophobia in sports featuring Pride parade VIP Ben Cohen

Today, In the Life announced its newest episode, “Changing the Game,” taking a look at the gay element in sports. Looking at high-profile incidences of homophobia with slurs by basketball player Kobe Bryant or Atlanta Braves coach Roger McDowell, the show examines the effects of trickle-down homophobia on student athletes and the queer community in general.

The episode features appearances by Tiki Barber, Bam Bam Muelens and rugby athlete, as well as Dallas Pride parade VIP, Ben Cohen.

In the Life appears on public television but I didn’t seem to find the listing on the website. No matter. You can watch the episode below.

—  Rich Lopez

Mayor Rawlings proclaims ‘Stand Up Against Bullying Week’ to mark Ben Cohen’s visit

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings issued a proclamation this week declaring Sept. 12-16 “Stand Up Against Bullying Week.”

Rawlings’ proclamation (click to enlarge) notes that “nine out of 10 LGBT teens have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Stand Up Against Bullying Week coincides with a visit from international rugby star Ben Cohen, who’ll be in town for gay Pride and whose StandUp Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness about anti-LGBT bullying.

“It is an important issue to our youth,” Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said Wednesday. “Bullying is a real thing, and it’s important to bring awareness to it and to say it won’t be tolerated, and if it is happening, then others shouldn’t tolerate it. They should do something about it.”

The Stand Up Against Bullying Week proclamation was issued in response to a request from Jeff Hickey, a local gay activist who led the campaign to bring Cohen to Dallas.

Hickey has formed a group called Dallas Stands Up to host Cohen and spread the word about his visit Sept. 15-18. In addition to being a special VIP guest at the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, Cohen will headline an anti-bullying forum at SMU, speak at high schools in Dallas and Fort Worth, and attend a fundraiser for the Stand Up Foundation at the home of a GOP state lawmaker.

“It’s been a pure grassroots effort,” Hickey said. “It’s actually proving to be a much more profound experience than I expected to be.”

Below is a press release from Dallas Stands Up with more details about Cohen’s visit.

—  John Wright

Double-elimination tournament play begins today at gay softball World Series

Dallas Voice Drillers

As we mentioned last week, seven teams from Dallas are in Chicago competing this week in the 35th annual Gay Softball World Series. This is the largest annual gay sports event in the world with more than 3,000 people participating this year.

Rugby star Ben Cohen was on hand for the opening ceremonies. Cohen will be at Dallas Pride on Sept. 18. The opening ceremony took place at the Navy Pier on Monday night.

More than 150 teams from 41 North American cities are participating. In addition to the competition, there will be a street fair in Boystown over the weekend. Tournament winners will be recognized on Sunday on the field during Pride Day at Wrigley Field for the Cubs game.

The first two days of play are called pool play. Keith Dossiere of the Dallas Voice Drillers said pool play is a warm up and determines rankings for the double-elimination tournaments that begin today. In each division, the team with the best record in pool play plays the lowest-ranked team, the second-place team plays the team ranked next to last, and so on.

Results can be found on the World Series website. You can also follow the World Series on Facebook and Twitter. And stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates on the Dallas teams.

—  David Taffet

Cowboys legend Michael Irvin talks with Out magazine about gay brother, being an LGBT ally

Former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin tells all to Out magazine in their sports issue profiling athletes who are also allies to the LGBT community. Cyd Zeigler provides an insightful look at Irvin as he came to learn that his brother was gay and the effect it had on his life and career. Irvin, being the huge persona that he is, is surprisingly poignant and reflective about his brother who passed in 2006, as well as about standing up for LGBT equality.

The issue also includes athletes Ben Cohen, Hudson Taylor, Mike Chabala and Nick Youngquest.

—  Rich Lopez