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?

"Here an issue came right in our face, and we could've easily turned away and let it go by. I'm proud we didn't," Scott says. "You raise and teach your kids, do things with them, take them fishing and to baseball games. It just so happens Scouting for All is one of the other things we do together. Who says we can't fish and be activists, too?"

In a Washington, D.C., hotel room, Scott coaches his son the night before the Millennium March. A few hundred thousand people are expected to gather on the nation's Mall between the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial on a late spring Sunday to rally for equal rights for gays. Steven has been invited to address the crowd, his remarks to be televised live on C-SPAN. Scott plays videotapes of old Martin Luther King speeches.

"Remember to look up, into the crowd. Try not to read your notes so much."

But Steven catches King doing otherwise: "See, Dad, he looks at his notes!"

Next they argue about gesturing. Scott wants Steven to thrust his arm in the air and make a fist at the conclusion of his speech. Steven says that looks stupid.

Steven is also uncomfortable with the latest draft of his speech because it does not contain his own words. The usual drill has Steven mention what he'd like to say, while his dad actually writes the speech. Now Steven finds this system suspect and wonders if it is right. Scott tells him that some of his biggest heroes -- John and Robert Kennedy, and King -- all had speechwriters. Still, Steven insists he write his own this time.

Dad agrees, if Steven promises to raise his arm. Scott tells his son that symbols can be stronger than words. "Think of it as a call for people to unite, that we're standing up for kids' rights and gay rights and that we'll press on." Steven rolls his eyes.

Scott is adamant about the arm. In addition to regular media coverage, a documentary about the Cozzas, Scout's Honor, is being produced by the Independent Television Service for a national PBS audience. Scott envisions his son's speech before thousands as a great climax to the film. "The picture freezes with his hand raised while the credits go by," he says, playing director for a moment. "It's an image no one would forget."

The march is running long at Steven's appointed time, and organizers are trying to edit the speakers. They tell the 15-year-old to just go up and say his name and what group he is from. "No way!" Steven thinks to himself. "I didn't come all this way for nothing. I have things to say." Alone on the stage, facing a crowd of tens of thousands, Steven makes a snap decision: throw out the prepared speech and just say what he remembers from it, what he believes matters most.

"As Martin Luther King said, we must not allow any forces to make us feel like we don't count," Steven says clearly and boldly, in his deepening voice. He is growing tall and strong and has a confident presence onstage. He looks into the sea of people gathered around the Washington Monument. His hair only has bleach-blond tips for now, his body free of piercings for a few more months. "Be proud of who you are despite what the Boy Scouts say!"

At that, his clenched fist flies into the air and the crowd cheers.

Back home in Petaluma, Steven watches a tape of himself speaking at the march and likes what he sees. "I was more proud and loud," he says. "I felt stronger about the issue."

He compares his most recent performance to tapes that are now a few years old, when he spoke publicly at 12 and 13.

"Wow, I was just saying words back then," he says. "Now the words mean something."

With two teenagers home on summer vacation, the phone rings all day. Anne and Steven are out, so it's up to Mom to take down the urgent messages of high school gossip and romance -- and fend off the girls after Steven. Between calls, Jeanette tries to clean her trilevel tract home with the nicely decorated lawn and basketball hoop next to the two-car garage. Mornings are chaotic for the Cozza family. Scott was in his Honda at dawn to inch across the Golden Gate Bridge on his commute to San Francisco. Anne left behind a mess as she packed to go camping with her boyfriend. Steven, who is training for the mountain biking team, was already peddling his way to Mount Tamalpais, hoping he'll be the strongest sophomore.

Jeanette impatiently waits for her son to get back so she can take him to a doctor's appointment. He pulled a muscle a few days earlier but continues to hit the trails. Sometimes, Jeanette wishes she could strangle him.

"He'd like to think it's true when people call him a star, but believe me, he's no god," she says. "This kid is the slob of the world and moans about doing anything around the house. You can't tell him anything -- what to do, how to dress. He knows all. He's a very typical teenager."

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