Pin It

A Boy Scout No More 

Since he was 12, Steven Cozza has led a crusade against the Scouts' anti-gay policies. What will happen now that he's grown up to discover sports and girls?

Wednesday, Sep 20 2000
Comments
When a white, middle-class, teenage boy from the suburbs grows his hair long, dyes it fire-engine red, and refuses to wash it in hopes of getting dreadlocks, there are reasonable explanations for such behavior: restlessness, rebellion, a search for identity. He is a suburban teenager, after all. And while most parents might hate the look, they can hope it's just a phase.

But the stakes are higher in the Cozza household. Their once clean-cut son, a Boy Scout who received the distinguished Eagle badge -- a Scout's highest honor -- is something of a national figure. He is Steven Cozza, the cute and precocious kid from Petaluma who spoke out against the Boy Scouts of America policy that excludes gays from its ranks. Wasn't it hypocritical, he told reporters from the New York Times to CBS News, that Scout law would tell its charges to be kind and friendly to all yet discriminate against gays? The 12-year-old became an instant media darling, invited to talk shows and speeches across the country. He made the Advocate's "25 Coolest Straight People" list, along with the likes of Christopher Reeve, Elizabeth Taylor, and Oprah Winfrey.

The image was irresistible -- a young boy challenging an all-American institution like the Boy Scouts on an issue as controversial as gay rights -- and it made great copy. But now Steven is a rebellious 15-year-old with technicolor hair, not to mention a pierced tongue and two earrings. His parents worry that makes for great copy, too.

"It's terrible," his mom, Jeanette, says. "People will think he's a punk rocker."

"I don't care; it's my body," protests Steven, who has taken to hanging out with the skateboard punks at school, and listening to the newest rapcore music by Papa Roach and Limp Bizkit. "If people are going to judge me for how I look, that just shows how they'll grasp at anything. What are they going to say? "Oh, no, he's out to destroy the Boy Scouts -- look at his red hair!'"

"Absolutely," argues Steven's dad, Scott, who has at least as much invested in the Boy Scout protest as his son. He was expelled as a leader of Steven's troop for publicly challenging the gay ban and proposing that the Scouts march in San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade. Scott was appalled that gay kids were being denied the benefits of Scouting, and he encouraged Steven to speak out, to teach his son a lesson in civics and tolerance. Scott organized Steven's petition drive at a Petaluma grocery store, which generated so much media attention that it launched their efforts into a national campaign. He also wrote Steven's stump speeches, as father and son traveled to places like New York and Washington, D.C., to join marches and lobby politicians. And it was Scott who planned a major protest rally at the Scouts' Dallas-area headquarters, where his son was scheduled to deliver a 55,000-signature petition last month.

So when Steven decided to adopt his radical new look -- right before his trip to Dallas -- his parents had good reason to be upset. He seemed to have forgotten that he was still a very visible spokesperson in a highly charged campaign.

"I tried to calm myself down," Scott says of his reaction to his son's makeover. "I know he is trying to find out who he is, and I don't want to shame him." But that was hardly the sentiment reflected in his first words to Steven: "What were you thinking? If you go looking like that, you're putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger!"

In the end, Steven and his dad compromised: Steven wore a baseball cap for three days in Dallas. "It made me mad I had to wear a hat, but my dad has a point. It doesn't help me in taking this stand," he says. "I should feel more pressure, but I don't. And I shouldn't have my ears pierced, but I'm just being myself."


At first glance, there is nothing very extraordinary about the Cozzas. They look like a typical suburban family: Scott and Jeanette, married 23 years; their teenage kids, Steven and Anne; and dog Teddy. But there is something that sets them apart. It is the cause. It lives with them like another member of the household, an unexpected child that requires much care and attention, and upsets the family routine. The cause is loved, but tiring, and at times resented.

The cause has also grown and changed, as have the Cozza children, which has put some strain in their home. As a 12-year-old celebrity, Steven challenged the gay ban and worked on his Scouting service projects with equal fervor. He happily remained a Scout, earning merit badges for things like citizenship and the environment. He was careful to carry his uniform on a pole instead of wearing it when he spoke with his dad at public protests, and his diligence paid off with an Eagle award. But soon after that milestone, he quit Scouting. He had been drawn to seemingly more relevant teenage pursuits like competitive sports and girls.

In a year when the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to exclude gays and Steven Cozza started high school, it would appear the cause might have good reason to stall. Yet Steven's dad has mobilized even more vigorously to keep it alive. The family's mission continues, but life is more complicated for the Cozzas these days, and the conflicts more apparent: Scott's struggle to balance the needs of his family with those of the cause, Steven's need to find his own way, and a family's attempt to reconcile a father's passion with a son's growing up.

The cause began, innocently enough, almost 10 years ago when a neighbor in the Cozzas' Petaluma subdivision recruited Steven and his dad to the Boy Scouts. A local troop was looking for new members, and 6-year-old Steven seemed like a perfect candidate. So did his dad. The Cozza family was always packing up to go camping. Scott often took neighborhood kids fishing, and he coached a Little League team. Steven and his older sister, Anne, raised chickens in the back yard that regularly won blue ribbons at the fair.

About The Author

Joel P. Engardio

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular