Scout's Honor

Boy ScoutIt's been over a year since the Supreme Court ruled to allow the Boy Scouts of America to discriminate against gay scout leaders. But the debate the ruling (and the battle against it) sparked is resurfacing on your television screen this week in "Scout's Honor." The documentary film, by Tom Shepard, follows Steven Cozza, the "straight" teenager from Petaluma, CA who has become poster child for the Scouting For All movement.

The documentary places Cozza's experience within the context of a 20-year struggle for gay inclusion within the Boy Scouts. It details the legal battles and grassroots organizing and two lawsuits brought by former scouts against the organization for gay discrimination. The plaintiffs, Tim Curran and James Dale, both received letters of expulsion from the national Boy Scouts office in 1981 and 1990, respectively, after being outed in local newspapers. Both were shocked to receive the news, since they'd been active scout members for several years and had each earned high rankings within their troops. They argued that the Boy Scouts programs should be open to all boys who wish to benefit from them, and excluding gay youth is contrary to the official Boy Scout oath of respecting and defending the rights of all people, but this argument was overturned.

Steven Cozza is the son Scott Cozza, social worker and assistant scout master, and the co-founder of Scouting For All, an organization created to change the Boy Scouts exclusionary policy. In "Scout's Honor," the audience follows Steven over a time span of three years and are lead from seeing the group gather petitions in front of their local grocery store to watching Steven speak at protests, gay pride parades and on radio shows around the country.

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law:
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

--Scout Oath

Although Steven and his father identify as straight, their commitment to the values which scouting advocates has urged them to defend gays as a marginalized group. They argue that no other non-religious youth organization in the US excludes gay kids from their membership, (not even the Girl Scouts!); and that exclusionary policy contributes to a sense of rejection many queer kids face from various arenas upon coming out. Scouting For All is also concerned for active scouts who are gay and must keep their sexuality a secret in order to continue participation.

Some youth may puzzle over the heavy focus of scouting as a "queer issue," but if you think about it, it makes sense. The Boy Scouts of America is as American an institution as apple pie, or gas-guzzling automobiles, and the fact that they have been allowed to be so blatantly homophobic is alarming. The Scouts aim to develop boys outdoor skills, leadership abilities and civic involvement, but they also aim to directly shape their moral values. As the film follows Steven in his everyday life and work, it is made clear that he exemplifies the qualities cultivated in Boy Scouts: he's an accomplished athlete in many sports, he attends church youth camp, he breaks up schoolyard fights, and he believes in the values his family has taught him regarding equal treatment and respect for all people. Even though he is a young straight boy, his commitment to working for gay rights (in addition to Scouting For All, Steven co-founded a gay-straight alliance at school with his sister) doesn't seem so strange when placed in the context of his entire value system.

Boy ScoutsWhat does seem strange, however, is the role Steven plays in Scouting For All. His picture graces each page of their petition, and his voice speaks out at rallies and on the radio. Both father and son assert that Steven is taking his own stand, but the genesis of Steven's role as spokesperson is unclear. When does parental influence turn into pressure, and where is the line between a father's advocacy for a just cause, and the inappropriate use of his child to promote his beliefs? "Scouts Honor" leaves these questions unanswered, allowing the viewer to consider the implications for ourselves.

The Boy Scouts declined to comment for the film, and so we viewers must assume their argument follows the basic right-wing stance against gay rights: queer people lack morality, gay adults influence children to become gay, and by deviating from sexual norms, gay people are more likely to engage in criminal sexual behavior, such as abusing children. This last argument, while mentioned briefly in the film, is never explored in light of recent allegations of sexual abuse made against Boy Scout leaders by their charges. Pressure on the Boy Scouts to preserve their reputation as "morally straight" in the face of such accusations must create a need to demonstrate their commitment to a conservative, traditional value system and continuing to exclude gays from their ranks is a sure way to achieve that. For some reason, the connection between these two recent controversies goes mostly unexamined in the film.

These gaps in "Scouts Honor" prevent it from being a complete look at Boy Scouts of America. However, one gets the sense that this was not the director's intention. the exposure this film has received, (it won a Freedom of Expression award at this year's Sundance Film Festival) has also gone much for the cause. The film has also recently screened at the Human Rights Watch Festival in New York, and numerous organizations have since pulled out of the Boy Scouts of America advisory board, including director/producer Steven Spielberg and the United Way.

In a recent article Release Print, the bi-monthly publication of the Film Arts Foundation, Shepard says he intended to make an educational film: "I feel like, if you can first engage people through their hearts, they are going to be far more open. If they know gay people personally, or they have a personal investment in curbing prejudice, they are much more likely to go out and support legislature that protects gay men and lesbians."

Check out the official Scouts Honor website at

Watch it and tell us what you think in the ReView section of the Tap In message boards.

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