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?

"There was a camera in my face, and I was tired and not in the mood. I was like, "Just let me go back to California,'" he says. "But my dad was so happy to get the publicity. He's really into it; I'm semi into it. He wants me to wear my uniform in public and is always hassling me if I don't. We disagree, but he usually wins. It's not perfect every minute."

Steven dreams of riding in the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong is his hero now, and he is intent on turning pro -- a goal that his biking coach does not think is so far-fetched considering Steven's ability. Athletics are his thing, and he is not especially excited about school or particularly good at it. He complains that the teachers expect him to be smarter than he is because of his activist background and well-spoken media appearances. He hates it when people assume they know him before they meet him.

"Some people think of me as a perfect type of kid that only helps others," Steven says. "I don't want them to look at me as just a Scouting for All, stand-up-for-gays type of kid. I want them to see me for who I am: a normal person. I'm not just an activist. Barely."

Yet he and his older sister did start a gay/straight alliance club at Petaluma High, and they are friends with the school's only openly gay student.

Scott says he doesn't want his kids to feel forced into doing anything. Anne usually keeps a distance from the cause, and Scott respects that. But he admits things may be different for Steven. "Even though I give him the choice, he may not always feel the choice is there," Scott says. "My passion is so strong, the underlying message may be: "You don't have a choice.' I hope that wasn't the case, though it could be. I'm sure he wants to please me."

But Steven does believe in the cause and willfully participates -- to a reasonable limit. "If this was all I lived for like my dad, then I'd say, "Why did I ever start this?' But it's not the only thing I'm going to do," he says.

Once Steven accepted the fact he would be taking a three-day break from his biking regimen, got used to hiding his hair with a hat, and concentrated on the task at hand, he handled himself impressively in Dallas. Father and son had agreed on a speech, but at the last minute Steven did not want to read it. He pushed aside the podium, pulled up a chair in front of the crowd, and sat down. He began speaking extemporaneously. "If I really wanted to go against my dad, then I'd refuse to do any interviews or speak," Steven says. "I want the Scouts to change their policy, and I can't drop it halfway through. I can't wait to tell my kids I helped change the policy. It's kind of like helping stop slavery; it's a big deal."

"When I heard him in Dallas, I could see the passion behind his words," Scott says. "It was genuinely him talking, not me. He had made the message his own."

As an observer of Steven and the Cozzas for more than two years, Tom Shepard says one of the biggest questions his PBS documentary tries to answer is how Steven has internalized what he's doing, what is meaningful for him, and how much agency he has had in all of it. "It was frustrating, because teenage boys do not share their innermost feelings. They act," Shepard says. "It took me a year before I could feel his investment and conviction, but it's there, and his actions show it."

At 15, Steven has discovered he is concerned about many things beyond the Boy Scouts and its policies. Things that personally affect him, like competitive biking, the latest music, and girls. Back at school this month, it was his coach -- not his dad -- who persuaded him to shave his red dreadlocks. "Scouting is only a speck in my life now," he admits. But he remains the mouthpiece of his cause. His words and image have helped do what the courts can't: pressure the Scouts to lift the ban by turning public opinion -- and dollars -- against the organization. Already since June's Supreme Court ruling, corporate donations to the Boy Scouts have dropped by the millions. It is just the beginning of a tide, Steven's dad believes, that will force a change in policy. If only they can keep pushing the issue. In the meantime, Steven is a maturing, ever more handsome young man, who is equally popular for his commanding presence on the sports field and social grace at the after-school party. Yet he is well aware that he is part of something bigger than himself. Like a good, young Kennedy, however reluctantly, he always steps up to his duty. And when he does, like in Washington or Dallas, his message is flawless.

"When I'm 20, I'll probably look back and say I was crazy; normal kids don't do that," Steven says. "But I'll never regret it. I'll know I helped a lot of people, and helped a lot of gay kids realize there's nothing wrong with them, even if the Boy Scouts say there is."

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