Rugby star Ben Cohen speaks out against bullies as he joins gay rights parade

FORMER England rugby union star Ben Cohen has told how the murder of his father led him to join yesterday's Pride London gay rights parade.

The retired Northampton and England winger's father Peter Cohen died while trying to protect a gay person at a nightclub he owned in 2000.

Combined with the huge following Cohen has among the gay community, his father's death led him to get involved in raising awareness about homophobic bullying.

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The married father of twin girls, 32, said: "My dad was murdered through violence, brutally attacked protecting someone. Fast forward six years, I had a massive gay following that I didn't realise I had. A lot of people were writing to me so I started doing things within that community and saying bullying needs to stop."

Six years ago Cohen created StandUp, a charity which seeks to raise awareness about bullying for reasons of race, religion or sexual orientation. Last May he embarked on a two-week tour of four cities in the US to promote the charity.

The World Cup winner, who reached 57 caps for England before retiring, said: "I really wanted to make it easier for people who get bullied and I'm in the privileged position of being a successful sportsman and having a place to speak to people and hopefully people listen.

"The actual scarring it has mentally goes on for the rest of their lives and I experienced that with what happened to my dad."

Cohen was joining an expected million participants in the annual festival, according to a spokesman for Pride London. Yesterday, activists and revellers flew rainbow flags and donned carnival dress at the UK's biggest gay rights parade.

Participants followed 21 floats set up on buses and lorries to mark the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) community's biggest celebration of the year.

Cohen also praised Welsh international rugby league player Gareth Thomas, who came out in December 2009 and was recently named the most influential gay person in the UK by a panel of experts.

He said: "There's a lot of people out there who are very homophobic so now that he's come out at the top of his game people respect him for what he does and say he's actually no different to anybody else."

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