Steven Cozza discusses scouting his way
By Robert Raketty
In many respects, Steven Cozza is your average 16-year-old: active in sports, an Eagle Scout and an avid bicyclist.
However, unlike most teenagers his age, he is at the forefront of a fast-growing national 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.
Cozza formalized Scouting for All as a non-profit in 1998. On Tuesday, June 19, PBS chronicles his struggle in
a new documentary, Scouts Honor, which airs on KCTS at 10 p.m. and reruns June 23 at 3 a.m. In telling Cozza's
story, Scout's Honor examines the issue of the BSA's discrimination against gay youth and adults and relates the
story of Dave Rice, 71, an assistant scoutmaster who was later expelled for challenging the BSA policy on gays.
Along the way, the film recounts the efforts of Tim Curran and James Dale, who fought the anti-gay
policy in court. What started as a small petition drive at a local Petaluma, Calif., grocery store became an international
petition drive and media campaign. For Cozza, who is straight, the issue is about equal rights and following the
Scout Oath and Law.
"The Boy Scouts were the ones who taught me to take a stand and try to make the world a better place,"
he told the Gay Standard. "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. 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 BSA ranks since 1908. The organization, the largest male
youth organization in the country, has prided itself on instilling core values on their members. The policy against
gays has never been explicitly stated, the BSA holds firm that its values require a scout to be "morally straight,"
as defined by 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," Cozza explained.
"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." 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 policies 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," Cozza said. "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."
Some say there is more to the issue than discrimination and the harm caused by such policies. They argue that
BSA troops receive a lot of public money, use public facilities and are supervised, in some cases, by city staff.
Therefore, the BSA should be held accountable for any discriminatory policies.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 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 sever long held ties with the BSA. A resolution presented at the BSA National Council meeting
in Boston this month asks the organization to let local sponsoring groups set their own policies regarding the
sexual orientation of members. The proposal came from nine council presidents and board chairs in some of the nation's
largest cities. Cozza's father sees this as 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," said Scott
Cozza, a social worker and president of Scouting for All.
However, Steven's activism has come at a cost for the Cozza family - late-night phone calls, e-mail death threats
and the possibility of a letter bomb haunt them every day.
"We have talked it over as a family and taken precautions and tried not to allow the death threats make
us paranoid or live differently in anyway," said Scott Cozza. "We know we have been blessed with the
opportunity to help continue the ripple of awareness, compassion, standing up for social justice and for human
rights. We just feel blessed to be given the opportunity to do that."
Scouting for All has implemented a national campaign that calls for the development of regional directors, and
recently hired a northwestern regional director to implement their strategy in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana,
Wyoming and Alaska. The group also plans to march in Seattle's Pride Parade on June 24. Steven Cozza and his father
say they remain optimistic that the
organization they love will have a change of heart. "Martin Luther King said, "Don't let any force make
you feel like you don't count. Maintain self-dignity and respect," Steven said. "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."
For more information about Scouting for All, visit their website at www.scoutingforall.org or call (206) 338-2727.