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Steven Cozza, Eagle Scout, Anti-Defamation League Speech June 1, 2004

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here at the Anti-defamation League awards tonight and a distinct joy for me to be the one to tell you a little bit about Steven Cozza.

A quick look at the first thing on Steven Cozza's personal website will tell you why this remarkable young man is receiving this award tonight. Emblazoned at the top of his page is this quote: "Become the change you want to see in the world" Mahatma Gandhi.

For seven years, ever since Steven first learned of the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory practices, he has been living those words. And ladies and gentlemen, he is just now 19 years old.

At 12 years old, with the clarity of youth, he took the Boy Scouts words, "You should respect and defend the rights of all people," at face value and sought simply to right a wrong. The Boy Scouts were in violation of their own oath. In word they said that you should respect and defend the rights of all, but in practice they were discriminating against a certain group of human beings, namely gay youth and adults. According to their own oath, this was wrong. Steven could not see himself staying in scouting unless he tried to do something to change that. Here are his own words reflecting back on this decision. "Ask yourself - if you heard a cry for help, would you run to help or run the other way? Do we stand in the light and shout, or do we hide in the darkness of night as the cries for help go on and on and on? I decided to take a stand."
Steven became the change he wanted to see in the world.

It started out simply enough. He wrote a letter. Then he wrote some more letters. And then he started a petition. And then he started an organization that today rings out across this nation and the world as a healing voice as well as a clarion call for Justice for All.

But make no mistake. Speaking truth to power is a daunting proposition. But as you in the Anti-defamation League know, the right path is never the easy path. It has not been easy to stand up to the giant that is the Boy Scouts of America. Steven and his family have been the objects of ridicule, disdain and death threats. But at his own personal risk, Steven has continued to fight for what he believes in. His loving heart and his sense of character and integrity compel him to seek justice for those without a voice and to stand in solidarity with those who face bigotry, hatred and discrimination simply for being who they are.

As a result, the Boy Scouts can no longer quietly get rid of gay youth and adults. Through Steven's work, their loathsome policies have been brought out into the light of day and can no longer be hidden from humanity. Their claims of being a diverse and accepting organization ring hollow and daily they are confronted with the hypocrisy of their words because of Steven Cozza's Stand.

So we are gathered here tonight to honor a young man who found the courage to speak out with a message of love, acceptance, and understanding in the face of bigotry, hatred and homophobia. But Steven, since I know you, I know that acknowledgement of what you have done and continue to do is not something you are altogether comfortable with. But my friend, never more so than now, the world needs heroes and champions who are willing to fight the good fight. It is right and good to acknowledge those in our midst who refuse to be apathetic and blind to bigotry and injustice.

And so I have a quote for you. It was said by Theodore Roosevelt and with a nod toward inclusive language I say to you:

It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong person has stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.

The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends him or herself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he or she fails at least fails while daring greatly so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Steven, as a defender of the disenfranchised you are a light of hope and a beacon of courage and love. Thank you for showing us how to be the change we want to see in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Steven Cozza. . .

(Linda Hodges, Friend and member of Scouting for All)

Steven Cozza, Eagle Scout, Vice President Scouting for All
Anti-Defamation League Speech June 1, 2004

As I was sitting in the audience listening to the speakers I started to think about how truly we are so different and individual and totally unique in our own way and how beautiful this is. I also thought about how there are also areas where we are similar and one of these similarities is that we all have the power to stand up for one another. We have the ability to feel another's pain. I believe the only difference between some of us is that some of us chose to use that power and others don't.

I am very honored to receive the Pearlstein Civil Rights Award. I truly want to say that it is not me who deserves this award but the message that the Anti-Defamation League and Scouting for All gives that deserves this award. The message is more important than the messenger, so tonight through my acceptance of the Pearlstein Civil Rights Award, I want to honor people who take a stand against injustices in this world. That is what is going to make the difference. All of us here tonight who have taken a stand against social injustice I want to honor tonight through my acceptance of the Pearlstein Civil Rights Award. We need to continue to stand together to make change. It is each and everyone of you here tonight who we honor and those others who have put themselves on the line, at times, at great risk for no personal gain but the vision that someday the injustice we oppose will end.

I want to first recognize the Anti-Defamation League. The Anti-Defamation League is an organization that symbolizes the courage it takes to stand against social injustice. In 1913 Sigmund Livingston founded the Anti- Defamation League in his courageous effort to stand up against bigotry and hatred that Jewish people faced. As Margaret Mead said " Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. In fact it's the only thing that ever did." Mr. Livingston, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and others such as yourselves who have spoken up against social injustice have helped change the world. Because through their courage and speaking out, they created an awareness and a social insight and conscience that we must not tolerate social injustice. That awareness of social justice will always remain in our spirit as human beings. No human being should accept anything less in terms of human rights. Although even today at the turn of the 21 Century some people and institutions remain deaf to this universal spirit of human rights and social justice for all. Just put yourself in a gay kid's shoes, if no one stood up, no one spoke out and we all kept quite how would you feel? It is so important that we stand up and continue to convey a message of social justice. Because it is the message that makes a difference. Yes, the Boy Scouts of America still discriminates. They still convey a hateful message of bigotry towards gays and atheists. They still teach discrimination through its policy of exclusion. But it is our message of hope, acceptance, and intolerance of social injustice against the gay and atheist communities, that is making a difference. And yes, we do hope the Boy Scouts of America changes it shameful policy, but until then it is our message that will carry us through. Institutions like the Boy Scouts of America who discriminate against gay and atheist youth and adults disrespect the human family. And that is why we as a people need individuals such as yourselves, everyone of you here this evening and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Scouting for All to step forth on the side of human rights even at our own personal cost. Because there is no cost greater then losing our freedoms and being denied our rights as human beings.

You know it is not easy to take a stand against social injustice. It takes a lot of courage. Even if you feel strong about doing something to help stop discrimination and to reach out to others it is difficult to do it alone. It wasn't easy for me. I decided to take a stand against the BSA when I was in 7th grade. So it was definitely tough for me. I had friends and allies but I still worried when I went to school the next day that I would be harassed after my letter to the editor denouncing the BSA's discriminatory policy came out in the newspaper. The way I dealt with my it is the same way many of you're here this evening did. I allowed myself to fell the pain of my gay friends who were rejected by the BSA. This is how we find the courage to speak out. It's great that our society is blessed to have the Anti-Defamation League and Scouting for All to provide us support and encouragement to stand together against social injustice. The Anti-Defamation League stands against bigotry and hatred as Scouting for All does with education, compassion, passion and love.

At Scouting for All's Protest in Chicago last week against the bigotry of the Boy Scouts of America's national leadership, Scouting for All also held a candlelight vigil for those gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning kids who killed themselves because they felt rejection from possibly their peers, family, church, and larger society. In our efforts to advocate for healing social change we must never forget those who died because of the social sicknesses of discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia and indifference. It is important that we don't forget people who are affected by hateful policies and some who have taken their own lives. The leading cause of death for gay youth is suicide. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America who discriminate against them only adds to that problem and become the problem.

In memory of gay youth who have taken their lives I'd like to read a poem titled "Remember Me" written by Robbie Kirkland, a 15 year old gay kid who killed himself because he felt rejected. He felt like he didn't belong.

Poems by Robbie Kirkland

"Remember Me" I may be gone, but I hope I'm not forgotten. Remember me. (9-1-94)

"I'm Dying and No One Cares" I try to stand and walk I fall to the hard cold ground. It feels as if to life I'm no longer bound. The others look and laugh at my plight. Blood pours from my nose, I am not a pretty sight. I try to stand and again but fall To the others I call But they don't care The pain is unbearable The world is not fair I'm lost and cold I wish one would lend a hand to hold My tears mix with my blood The end of my life It nears I'm Dying and no one cares The pain. The pain. THE PAIN! I scream in pain! My body shakes in violent spasms I cry out in pain again! I scream My blood pours like a stream I'm Dying and no one cares I scream in pain one last time and then it's over. I am Dead and no one cares.

Robbie was born on February 22, 1982. He killed himself on January 2, 1997 when he was 15. A time in his life when he should have been dreaming about becoming whoever he wanted to be. Instead he was struggling with the bigotry of homophobia. It was homophobia that killed Robbie. I've dedicated our effort in Scouting for All in the memory of Robin Reed another 15 year old student from the high school I went to, Petaluma High School and to all gay youth who have taken their lives because they felt like they didn't belong. Robin Reed was also a gay kid. He killed himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1995. Five years later my sister, a friend and I started Petaluma High School's first GSA Gay Straight Alliance. If Petaluma High School had a GSA in 1995 Robin Reed might be alive today, standing here in my place sharing with you how it is to grow up gay with the support of groups like Gay Straight Alliances. So the next time you hear someone making fun of someone else at your school. Think about Robin Reed and Robbie Kirkland. Think about how it hurts to be rejected and made fun of. And most important don't turn your back and walk the other way.

We need to take back the Boy Scouts of America to what it once stood for from the time Lord Baden Powell founded the scouts in England. He was believed to be gay himself. He wanted scouting to be for all kids not just for some kids. Most scouting programs throughout the world don't discriminate against gays, atheists or girls. The Boy Scouts of America is one of the very few scouting countries in the world who discriminate. It hurts me, as an Eagle Scout, to know that still to this day and age, entering the 21 century people continue to be hateful towards GLBT youth. How can an organization like the BSA who is supposed to represent the very best in us as a society, embrace the very worst in our society bigotry and discrimination. Not only does the BSA discriminate but it gives the message to kids that discrimination is okay. As human beings on this planet it is our responsibility to take care of it and as a people we must stand up for what is just. But first before we can do that we must allow ourselves to feel the pain of those being hurt.

When I found out the Boy Scouts of America discriminated against my gay friends, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do something about it. When the Boy Scouts of America discriminated against my gay friends they discriminated against me as a human being. As a people we must allow ourselves to fell another's pain and then we must not walk away, but step forth and be counted. If only people could turn all their hatred and fear into love this world would be a far better place to live in for all of us. Next time you see someone being hateful to another don't be afraid to stand up for that person. This is what the BSA should be teaching but instead they rather teach kids hate by example. As the ADL says, in it's pyramid of hate, "discrimination leads to violence and extreme violence. A sad example of this is when Matthew Shepard, a gay college student was murdered by an Eagle Scout and a Mormon. Both the Boy Scouts of America and Mormons have a hateful view towards gay people. These organizations are examples of how discrimination and hatred can lead to violence and murder.

As those who came before us like Mr. Livingston, the founder of the Anti-Defamation League we shall continue to make a difference in advocating for human rights because we have but no other choice to do so in this life.

Now before I end, I'd like to have a moment of silence for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth who have taken their lives because they have felt rejection and for those gays and atheists in scouting who have to hide who they are out of fear of being kicked out. (Silence)

Thank You All Very Much for your message of hope, of a world where the diversity of the human family is cherished and embraced.

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