North Coast voices react to Boy Scouts' policy shift on gays

  • Steven Cozza, shown in Petaluma in 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

The proposed lifting of a national ban preventing gays from openly participating in Boy Scouts is drawing cheers, but also concern, among those in the North Bay who for years have fought for such change.

"I don't think it's enough, but I do think it's a start. At least they (the Boy Scouts of America) won't be forcing everybody to discriminate," said Petaluma's Steven Cozza, an Eagle Scout who has waged a decades-long campaign to have the ban removed.

Under the proposal being considered next week by Scouting's national executive board, churches, civic groups and other organizations that sponsor Boy Scout troops could decide for themselves whether to allow gay Scouts and leaders.

Supporters say the new policy would give troops the flexibility to make rules based on their social, religious and philosophical beliefs. There are 127 troops and Explorer units, and 2,380 Boy Scouts, in the Redwood Empire Council, which spans Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

"It's an appropriate way to transition into it," Herb Williams, the council's president, said of the proposed changes.

But others raised concerns that leaving the decision to individual troops could further inflame the debate by setting an unequal standard. Most of the nation's Boy Scout troops are sponsored by churches, which typically have a more conservative view of homosexuality.

Jason Stewart, committee chairman of Petaluma's Troop 2, said kids in some communities could still feel left out by Scouting's new policy because they live in places where anti-gay sentiment is strong, or because there aren't many troops to choose from.

"They may not have the option to join Scouting at all because national didn't go all the way and say no way to discrimination," said Stewart, whose three sons participate in Scouts.

The North Bay has in many ways been ground zero for the national debate over Scouting's ban, which conflicts with the region's general acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Cozza has been fighting the battle since December 1997, when he launched a national protest against the ban. He was joined by his father and a friend, who were ousted as Scout leaders for their political activities.

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