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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.

Steven Cozza - The 2001 Pride Role Model Award

Last year, when I awarded the first annual Pride and Prejudice Awards, I included an award to be presented to "someone, gay or straight, who deserves emulation for positive stands taken in the gay civil rights movement."

The first honoree was the Rev. Mel White, leader of the Soulforce movement, which tries to change the exclusionary attitudes in Christian churches, using the nonviolent methods of protest inspired by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

When I created the award, I thought it was probably the most important of the lot, but announced it with all the others, Pride and Prejudice.

This year, I announced the second annual Pride and Prejudice Awards, or PAPAs, but did not include the Pride Role Model Award, because I wanted to devote a separate column to it and the 2001 honoree.

If every there was a hero for this year, it's the California teen-ager Steven Cozza.

As a father who loves his own two sons, I can tell you what it means when you see your kid do something that demonstrates his potential for being a good man, perhaps a better one than you are. It means feeling a glorious, choked-up sense of pride in your throat as well as a sense of awe and amazement that this wonderful being came from your loins and/or was exposed to your influence and still turned out better-than-average.

Steven's father, Scott Cozza, must be a very strong man --- for he must be dealing with these same overpowering feelings about his son every waking moment.

Steven is a member of the Boy Scouts of America who has achieved Eagle Scout rank. If you look at his badge-heavy scout sash, you can see that he has achieved nearly every honor an Eagle can achieve in a very short time.

That would be reason for recognition by itself. But Steven has gone one step further than just meeting the Boy Scouts of America's standards for one of scouting's highest honors. He has challenged the Boy Scouts themselves to a higher standard than is practiced officially.

Steven Cozza, with the support of his parents, Scott and Jeanette, founded "Scouting for All," a movement that seeks to convince the BSA to do away with its homophobic policy of excluding gay men and boys from participation. The policy, which was not in the scouting handbooks when men of my generation participated in the scouts, is a reaction by the BSA's national adult leadership --- an increasingly conservative lot with many close ties to fundamentalist Christian churches --- to the gay civil rights movement. The policy attempts to suggest, despite documentation to the contrary, that gay men are more likely to be sexual predators than their heterosexual counterparts and therefore are not considered "morally straight," one of the requirements for being a scout.

At an age when his voice was just beginning to change, Steven Cozza, who identifies himself as straight, looked at the BSA's policy toward homosexuals and realized the hypocrisy of one group of men and boys being singled out for exclusion. In a recent TV programme broadcast on the US Public Service Channels and called "Scout's Honor," Steven's efforts to change the policy through public lobbying and demonstrations are documented. We see a young man become mature and his idealistic views grow as he does, without losing focus.

Steven Cozza is an all-American boy in every best sense of the word. He is nice-looking enough to have lots of friends who are girls and a girlfriend, as well, without being handsome in the pretty-boy sense. He appears to be loyal to friends of all genders and sexual orientations. He is articulate when he speaks, but even more so when he listens to adults tell him what his efforts mean to them. One particularly poignant moment in the film comes when the youth leader at his church, a self-identified gay man, says, in Steven's presence, that even as Steven claims to have been inspired by their friendship, he, too, has been inspired by Steven's work on behalf of gay rights.

At first, in the film, Steven comes off as an innocent kid having a grand time with all the media attention he is receiving. One of his best lines is, "People think that we kids will become homosexuals if we hang around gay people. Well, my dad was taught by nuns and he didn't become a nun!"

But as the Scouting for All movement grows, the film also shows a more serious Steven, one who has to deal with teasing at school and threatening telephone calls at home. It is in these sequences that the viewer becomes aware, as do Steven and his family, of the inherent danger one risks in working for social change.

Although I have exchanged brief e-mails with Steven's father, Scott, and also receive regular press releases about Scouting for All, I never had the opportunity to see Steven Cozza in action prior to this film. If you are in the US or ever get the chance to see "Scout's Honor" I urge you too, and be inspired by a modern hero who hasn't even reached his prime.

Through his work, Steven Cozza has become a symbol to all, gay and straight, who support the gay civil rights movement. He is a son every parent should be so lucky to have.

Published July 8th 2001


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