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?

At 12, Steven didn't really understand what it meant to be gay and why the Scouts were so averse to gay people serving in their ranks. Scott tried to explain to his son that Scouting was not open to diversity, something everyone should be. "What's diversity?" Steven asked.

Then Scott put it this way: "Your favorite counselor at church camp can never be a Boy Scout."

"Why not?"

Gay/Straight Alliance protesters at Scout headquarters.
Mark Graham
Gay/Straight Alliance protesters at Scout headquarters.
Media Pro: After three years of national exposure, Steven Cozza has mastered the soundbite.
Mark Graham
Media Pro: After three years of national exposure, Steven Cozza has mastered the soundbite.

"Because there are some people who are a little different from us that the Scouts don't like. Robert is gay, and the Scouts do not let gay people join."

"But Robert would be a great Boy Scout!"

Steven was upset. He wrote his citizenship letter to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, asking how they could help him change the Boy Scouts policy. Steven received supportive form letters in response but was disappointed neither politician specifically answered his question.

People who feel ignored, Scott told his son, can better make themselves heard using their right to assembly and protest. A petition drive, for example, would show he was not alone in his views. As motivated to challenge Scout policy as Scott was, he worried Steven wouldn't want to take things to the next level. The adolescent was already becoming less inclined to listen to his father. "He was getting the attitude that if I said it was sunny out, he'd say the opposite," Scott recalls. "It was frustrating as hell, but I understood. When I brought up the petition, I expected him to say, "No way!' like with everything else I ever suggested."

Scott was also concerned about how a full-blown petition drive might look: No 12-year-old organizes such a thing on his own. "Part of my advocacy is me working through my own issues of hurt and pain," says Scott, whose mother abandoned him and his brother when they were young. He feels a certain empathy with the rejection gay kids often experience. "It could be viewed that I am doing this for my own ego. Some of it is; that's human. But I try to keep that in check as much as I can. I never saw myself using Steven for my own agenda. Not consciously, anyway."

Steven was game. Scott set up a petition drive on a weekend afternoon outside the Lucky's grocery store in Petaluma. He also arranged a press conference afterward, and Steven was a hit. Bay Area media ran with it, and the wire picked up the story, sending it nationwide. Locally, though, the reaction was much less welcoming. When Scott invited Steven's Scout troop to march with them in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, no one accepted. "A lot of people got pissed I would even suggest such a thing. Some were opposed for religious reasons," he says. "The parents really raked me over the coals for that one, saying, "How can you do that to your kid?'"

Scott was ejected from Troop 74, but didn't forsake Scouting. He made allies with other Bay Area adults, both gay and straight, who loved Scouting but wanted the gay ban dropped. They formed Scouting for All. Steven was allowed to stay in his troop even though he continued to speak out under his father's direction. In effect, he was being used by Scouting for All, playing an integral role in the group's strategy. "The opposition was softened by Steve," Scott says. "He's just a kid, and what possible agenda can he have? He disarms people. It's hard to go after and hate a child who speaks the truth."

Steven loved the attention. Not only was he in the paper and on the local news, he was a favorite guest on talk radio and was getting booked on national television programs like the Today show and Good Morning America. He was also in demand on the lecture and awards circuit. The ACLU gave Steven its youth activist award. New York City's Police Department honored him with a badge of courage. The Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest and most powerful gay lobby group, invited him to speak at last April's Millennium March on Washington.

Back in Petaluma, Steven braced for certain teasing at school. But the ostracism wasn't as bad as he expected. By junior high, the in-crowd already had been welcoming him, mainly for his prowess on the sports field. He was developing early for his age and stood out on the soccer, wrestling, track, and cross-country teams. And he was far from the introverted, nerdy type one might expect of a person who stays with the Boy Scouts into his teenage years. Steven was an outgoing, attractive, and popular kid who gave Scouting a good name and image. He made it look cool. In his freshman year of high school, he was voted homecoming king. Most everyone seemed to like him, especially the girls. Some of the boys made fun of his cause, calling him gay by association, but as Steven says, "things got better when I got on TV."

Steven was getting hundreds of e-mails a week from former and current Boy Scouts who offered their support. Scouting for All was granted nonprofit status, and people began to send in donations. Scott, who had spent thousands of dollars from his family's savings on the cause, could now get his $700-a-month phone bills reimbursed. Scouting for All set up a national board of directors to oversee volunteer operations in four regional districts. Scott became the group's president and Steven its spokesperson.

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