By Jeff Walsh
Steven Cozza is on a mission. He wants the Boy Scouts of America to recognize that they are being hypocritical about their policy of not allowing openly gay members to serve as scouts or scoutmasters. For the past two and a half years, Cozza has marched in gay pride parades, set up tables in the middle of gay meccas getting signatures on his petition and has spoken out about why the Scouts need to follow their own words.
"They're basically teaching us how to discriminate and that's morally wrong," Cozza said. "The Boy Scouts teach us to treat others as you would want to be treated, it says in the Scout Law. And I don't know anybody who'd want to be discriminated against. Yet the Boy Scouts discriminate against gays."
And, so far, this 13-year-old activist has gotten over 14,000 signatures on his petition, which recently launched on the Internet as well.
"We'd like one million, but we hope they'll have [the policy] changed by then, because what the petition is really doing is bringing the community together and letting them know that the Boy Scouts do discriminate," he said.
Cozza's involvement started when a heterosexual scoutmaster who had been involved with the organization for 60 years began speaking out against the policy. He was kicked out of the group, because he was accused of trying to get the boys to speak out, as well, Cozza said. But, according to Cozza, the boys were the ones pushing to be more vocal about the policy.
Cozza said he hasn't had too many problems from his peers, although he said "a few" keep saying he must be gay to keep doing this.
"At first, nobody seemed to like it, but after a while, like when I started to be on TV, they thought it was cool," he said. "It's mostly the parents that are mad about it, the kids are OK with it."
Cozza said his public stance has had some repercussions.
"It's been a little hard to get my Eagle. I've almost got it. I'm an inch away from getting it. I just need one more person to sign off on it," he said. "I used to not say the Scout Law in protest, because that's what we have to do before every meeting. When they discriminate they're not following their own law, but now they're saying I have to say it. And they're trying to say I don't believe in it. But I do believe in it, definitely. I just don't believe the Boy Scouts follow it."
Cozza has written two letters to the BSA, but (no surprise) hasn't heard back from them. But Cozza is definitely dedicated. On a recent weekend, I ran into Cozza and his father spending all Sunday afternoon in the center of the Castro district in San Francisco trying to get people to sign their petition.
Cozza said they've gotten as many as 2,000 signatures in one day working in the Castro. "I'm surprised, a lot of gay couples decide not to sign," he said. "I don't know why."
Cozza said his stance is less about politics and more about doing what he knows in his heart is the right thing to do.
"I had a Christian camp counselor who was gay and he was a great role model for me, and I knew a lot of other gay people from the gay freedom parade," he said. "And my parents raised me to believe that everybody should be treated equal."
Cozza said this experience has not turned him away from believing in Scouting, though. If anything, it's reinforcing what he was taught by Scouting.
"Scouting is great. I just have a problem with discrimination. It ticks me off," he said. "Scouting teaches us to stand up for what we believe in, and that's what I'm doing. I'm just being a good scout."