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Columbia University wrestling coach Hudson Taylor (left) and former English Rugby World Cup champion Ben Cohen (right) spoke to students about defeating homophobia in the sports arena.

Credit: Justin Cohen / Justin Cohen/DP Staff Photographer

An Ivy League wrestling coach and a Rugby World Cup champion gave students a new stance on combating homophobia Monday night.

Penn’s Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia and Heterosexism, Allies and the LGBT Center welcomed Ben Cohen and Hudson Taylor to Houston Hall for “Ally Athletes in Action.”

“Both of our speakers are straight athletes who support gay rights,” said College junior Jacob Tolan, chair of Allies.

Ben Cohen is a former professional English rugby player, who made headlines in May 2011 when he retired from rugby to focus on the StandUp Foundation. The Queen of England has honored him for his involvement with the national rugby team.

VIDEO: Watch Ben Cohen answer our questions on camera

Hudson Taylor is a three-time All-American wrestler and current wrestling coach at Columbia University. Taylor gained media attention when he wore a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear and has since founded the organization Athlete Ally.

“When I found that I had 37,000 men following me on Facebook, I felt I had a responsibility to them and that I was in a pretty good position to make a difference in a person’s life,” said Cohen, who now has over 175,000 followers.

College senior Corinne Rich, chair of the Lambda Alliance and a member of the Women’s Track team, was excited about the event because it is “rare that we have events where we shine the light on allies.”

College junior Jason Magnes, chair of PATH, took this opportunity to reach out to the greater community at Penn, emailing coaches of Penn’s varsity and club sports. He estimated that 75 percent of the audience was athletes, their target audience.

“We’ve really tried to get the word out in as many ways as possible,” said Magnes, who saw this was an opportunity for education and advocacy.

“It was so refreshing to hear such fire and passion come from people that are not personally impacted by this because they’re straight, and yet are so invested in it because they know that this is our generation’s battle,” said College senior Victor Galli, the vice chair for Political Affairs of the Lambda Alliance. The goal of the event, Magnes said, was to stress the importance of being an active ally and understanding the difference between tolerance and acceptance — urging people, especially athletes, to “open their minds to the possibility that there might be someone gay on their team.”

“Maybe your team is cool about it, but if no one brings it up then you’re left in the dark and that’s a tough thing to deal with,” Rich added.

Taylor built on this sentiment. “An athletic team is most successful when it’s most united and it is not unified when it makes one of its teammates feel uncomfortable about coming out.”

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