Benjamin Cohen, founder and CEO of PinkNews, dotcom success story and broadcaster, spoke to current pupils as part of LGBT+ History Month.
Benjamin, who was at QE from 1993–1998, took part in a video conversation with the School’s Student Leadership Team and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Ambassadors.
The session was recorded so that it can be used by form tutors to stimulate discussion among all year groups as an eQE online resource within QE’s personal development and wellbeing programme.
Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Our students will take courage and inspiration from all Ben had to say when reflecting on his career, the success of PinkNews, equal marriage, Section 28, religion and much more besides.”
Benjamin launched PinkNews, a UK-based online newspaper, in 2005. PinkNews describes itself on its website as “the brand for the global LGBT+ community and the next generation”.
But before that, Benjamin had already made his mark as a serial entrepreneur in the dot.com boom around the start of the new millennium.
After leaving QE, he created JewishNet, which he describes as “Britain’s first social network before the term was invented”. It grew rapidly, making him worth £5m at one point.
Soon after, he established CyberBritain – “a dot.com darling for a couple of years” – which, among other things, launched a UK-specific search engine powered by its own technology and attempted to launch a service similar to Spotify.
For much of his time with CyberBritain, Benjamin was also an undergraduate at King’s College London.
He went on to be a columnist for The Times, corporate advisor for ITN, business & technology correspondent for Channel 4, a PR director, and, from 2010 until 2017, was a presenter for the BBC, where his work included writing and presenting a critically acclaimed documentary, I was a teenage dot.com millionaire. He is also a longstanding UK trustee and non-executive director of Humanity & Inclusion, a global disability development charity.
He explained the importance to PinkNews’ success of its leading role in the campaigns to legalise same-sex marriage: “Since then, we have just grown and grown and grown.” Having expanded further during lockdown, PinkNews now has more than 40 people working for it and 50m consuming its content monthly, he said.
During his talk, there was plenty of time for questions from the boys, which Benjamin was happy to answer.
Asked about whether religion comes into conflict with LGBT rights, Benjamin, who comes from a Jewish background, said it was partly to explore such questions that he had chosen his degree subject – Religion, Philosophy and Ethics – at Kings. “Some faiths have moved on quite a way, but others still have a long way to go,” he said, reflecting that families often found their own ways to adapt, including that of his (non-Jewish) husband.
Questioned on barriers still facing LGBT people, including school pupils, Benjamin spoke of how much things had changed in schools from when he was a pupil. At that time, the ‘Section 28’ law that made the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ illegal in state schools was still in force. “This would have been literally against the law,” he said, referring to the discussion.
Today, the situation was very different, he said. “With me as a gay man, I can pretty much do everything I want within the UK…but trans people do face some challenges.
“It generally takes an example – so, if a student was to come out as trans or something, that would create the atmosphere to enable pupils [and] the school to move on.”
He reflected that there was a growing acceptance in society that families can differ from traditional patterns.
Benjamin, who applauded QE’s policies in areas of sexuality and relationships, said that the national introduction of ‘compulsory Sex and Religious Education’ over the last year had been a significant step: “We are in a pretty good place.”