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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Good Scout Steven

I recently made the acquaintance, through the internet, of a young fellow who I nominate for “Most Likely to Succeed” in any year. His name is Steven Cozza. He’s 15 years old and he’s audacious. Two of the synonyms for audacious, according to my computer thesaurus are “courageous” and “brazen,” and in Steven’s case, I think they both apply.

Steven is a founder of Scouting for All, an organization that is committed to scouting and open to diversity. He helped form this organization because he disagrees with the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of excluding people from participating because they may be homosexual or may not believe in God. An Eagle Scout from Petaluma, Calif., Steven is quite serious about his endeavor and has put himself on the line by his next action. On July 15, he wrote to The White House and asked President Clinton to step down as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America.

I believe the word I’m looking for is chutzpah. What does some kid, not even out of high school, think he’s doing, asking the leader of the free world to step away from this country’s most apple-pie All-American civilian organization this side of the Grand Old Flag? What he’s doing is what we all should be doing. Steven Cozza is asking Bill Clinton to follow in the footsteps of another great American — whom Clinton has professed to admire — Eleanor Roosevelt, who submitted her resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution, when that group of narrow-minded old biddies showed their true colors by refusing to allow Marian Anderson, one of America’s greatest contraltos, sing at a DAR-owned hall because Anderson happened to be a black woman.

Clinton, and anyone else who cares about equal rights for all people regardless of their differences (including sexual orientation and religion), should politely say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to the Boy Scouts of America, which has increasingly become, at its national level, under the influence of bigoted conservatives.

As a former scout and former scout leader, I know what a difficult decision this can be. Scouting can be a positive experience for many people. That’s why gay and nonreligious adults and boys want to participate, because so much of it is good for building character and just having fun. For the most part, at local levels, the type of official prejudice against gay people and the nonreligious is neither practiced nor preached. But officially, the scouts are on the record as being against both of these groups. Somewhere along the line, scouting became un-American because it practices and endorses bigotry.

Steven Cozza cut to the chase on the issue in his letter to Clinton. “The Supreme Court said that the Boy Scouts of America has a right to discriminate against gay kids and adults,” he told Clinton. “As an Eagle Scout of the Boy Scouts of America I think any form of discrimination is wrong. When I received my Eagle Award Certificate you had signed it as the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. The current leadership of the BSA have shamed scouting in America by supporting a practice of discrimination against gay kids and adults and atheists.”

“My mother told me that when you ran for office the first time you told the American people, ‘An American to discriminate against another America is un-American.’” Steven continued. “I agree with you. The Boy Scouts of America as an organization, through its practice of discrimination, is acting un-American.”

Steven told Clinton that stepping down as the scouts’ honorary president would be a “courageous act (which) would give a great message to millions of gay kids in this country that they are accepted, loved, and supported by you as the President of the United States.” “That would mean so much to gay kids,” Steven said. “Right now all that my gay friends have heard from the BSA ... is they are no good and are immoral, while in fact, the Boy Scouts of America is acting in an immoral way by discriminating.”

On July 19, U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., followed up on Steven’s letter by introducing the Scouting for All Act — legislation that would revoke the Boy Scouts of America’s Congressional Charter. It seems like Steven and the congresswoman have taken control of a bandwagon that would be worth jumping on.

It doesn’t take too much time to send off a letter or an e-mail to the president. His address is The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. 20500. The general address for Woolsey and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives is House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515. The telephone number is 202-224-3121. Steven Cozza can be reached, c/o Scott Cozza, by e-mail at COZZAHIVED@aol.com.

I think it would be a good idea, at the very least, to drop him a line and tell him how proud we all are of him and ask him what we can do to help support Scouting for All. Those of us who are parents of gay children should let him know how much he has encouraged us to hope for a brighter future built by better generations.

Published 24th July 2000


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