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6/14/01

Scouting for All the Journey, Scout's Honor Film


By Robert Raketty, S4A Northwestern Regional Director
Contributing Writer

In many respects, Steven Cozza is your average 16 year old, active in sports, an Eagle Scout and avid bicyclist. However, unlike most teenagers his age, Cozza is at the forefront of a fast growing movement. At the young age of 12, Cozza risked ostracism from his peers and his future in scouting to start Scouting for All, a non-profit organization working to overturn the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory policies against atheists and gays.

On Tuesday, June 19th , PBS chronicles his struggle in a new documentary, Scouts Honor. The heartwarming tale of a young activist and his love of scouting also examines the issue of the BSA's discrimination against gay youth and adults. In addition, the film tells the story of Scouting for All's Co-Founder Dave Rice, a 71 year old Assistant Scoutmaster who was later expelled for challenging the BSA's ban on gays. Along the way, the film recaps the efforts of Tim Curran and James Dale who legally fought the anti-gay policy in court.

What started as a small petition drive at a local Petaluma, California grocery store, became an international petition drive and media campaign. Today, Cozza has ignited a national debate and with the help of his father, formalized Scouting for All as a non-profit in 1998. For Cozza, the issue is about equal rights and following the Scout Oath and Law.

"The Boy Scouts where the ones who taught me to take a stand and try to make the world a better place. They say to treat others as you would want to be treated. By discriminating they are not following their own Scout Oath and Law, they are not trying to make the world a better place," he said. "I am the one who is following the Scout Law, it is them who are not following it by discriminating."

Hundreds of Millions of boys have passed through the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America since 1908. The organization, the largest male youth organization in the country, has prided itself on instilling core values on their members. Although the policy against gays has never been explicitly stated, the BSA holds firm that such values require a scout to be "morally straight," as defined by the Scout Law.

"Morally straight is what it originally meant when the Boy Scouts started, following your morals, keep your morals straight and having good morals. Not being a robber or a thief, just a good citizen. It has nothing to do with one's sexual orientation. The Boy Scouts of American turned it into that when they wanted to start their discriminatory policy," explains Cozza. Over the past two decades, the BSA has come under fire from opponents who say gay youth and adults are not immoral and that such polices are harmful. "The Boy Scouts of America give out negative messages to gay youth and adults, saying they are immoral and wrong for who they are. The leading cause of death for gay youth is suicide, so I think it is wrong for the Scouts to be sending out such a negative message," said Cozza. "Martin Luther King said 'Don't let any force make you feel like you don't count, maintain self dignity and respect.' I want gay youth to know, don't buy into those negative messages or think there is anything wrong with you because you are gay."

Some say there is more to the issue than discrimination and the harm caused by such policies. They argue that BSA troops sometimes receive public money, use public facilities and are supervised, in some cases, by city staff. Therefore, the BSA should be held accountable by their anti-discrimination laws.

The Supreme Court's 5 to 4 decision allowing the BSA to continue their ban against gays led to unprecedented outrage and erosion of public support. As a result, school districts, city governments and organizations such as the United Way have chosen to server long held ties with the BSA. Earlier this month, at the BSA National Council Meeting in Boston, nine council presidents
and board chairmans put forth a resolution to ask that some troops whose sponsoring organization have anti-discrimination policies be exempt from action by the BSA. Cozza's father, a social worker and President of Scouting for All, Scott Cozza, says this is a positive sign.

"The walls of bigotry are falling down and it is really a positive sign. Their bigotry is crumbling and it's crumbling because it is wrong. We're standing up against the bigotry purely with education and compassion," he said. "It seems to be working and we have a society now that is more open to looking at these issues and questioning this."

However, for the Cozza family, Steven's activism has come at a cost. The late night phone calls, the e-mail death threats and the possibility of a letter bomb haunt them every day.

"It has been horrendous. There is no way I want my son, daughter or my wife to be targeted either verbally, physically or in any way," said Scott Cozza. "We have talked it over as a family and taken percautions and tried not to allow the death threats make us paranoid or live differently in anyway." He adds, "We know we have been blessed with the opportunity to help continue the ripple of awareness, compassion, standing up for social justice and human rights. We just feel blessed to be given the opportunity to do that."

The Cozza's will not be deterred, in fact, Scouting for All, the organization Cozza helped create, has implemented a national strategy they call their National Campaign. The plan calls for the development of regional directors, rallies and their Alliance for Human Rights. They have recently hired a Northwestern Regional Director to implement their strategy in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. This year there are plans for their group to march in Seattle's Pride Parade later this month. Scouting for All's Co-Founder Steven Cozza and his father Scott say this effort is likely far from over but they remain optimistic that the organization they love will have a change of heart.

For more information about Scouting for All, visit their website at www.scoutingforall.org or call 206-338-2727



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