The Scouts' Oath
Synopsis Background The Scouts The Filmmakers Community Impact Organizations Press Room Related Links Screenings Order a Tape

Produced in association with the
Independent Television Service.

Contact Information:
Tom Shepard
Telephone: (415) 255-1044

Sundance Film Festival Resources
Sundance Film Festival

POV Resources
2001 Materials



'Scout's Honor' deserves its very own merit badge Topnotch film plays it straight Preview: Documentary shows how the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy adversely affects men young and old.

Published on June 19, 2001
© 2001 The Baltimore Sun

Earlier this year, after seeing Ken Burns' "Jazz" and the lineup for HBO's "America Undercover" series, I started wondering if we were living in a golden age of non-fiction filmmaking on television.

After seeing several films that will air this summer during the 14th season of public television's Peabody-Award-winning "P.O.V." documentary series, there's no longer any doubt in my mind. And "Scout's Honor," the film that launches the "P.O.V." (point of view) series tonight on PBS, is a textbook example of the way in which such documentaries have become the social conscience of American television, replacing the downsized, tabloid-minded network news divisions as moral authorities. The over-arching issue explored in "Scout's Honor" is the Boy Scouts of America policy of excluding openly gay members. For many filmmakers just telling the history of that policy might be enough.

But director/producer Tom Shepard wants to get viewers into the lives of some people affected by the issue, to provide a sense of what's at stake for these individuals and the larger culture. Shepard's focus is on Petaluma, Calif., and Boy Scout Troop 74, but he's talking about America and the ways in which our fundamental societal values are passed from one generation to the next.

As the opening credits play, he manages through montage and brilliant editing choices to fill in the audience about the background of the Boy Scouts and its controversial anti-gay policy. Shepard opens his story on a hilltop overlooking the prosperous, suburban, ranch-home landscape of Petaluma. The first words we hear are those of David Rice, a 70-year-old Scoutmaster. Rice is awash in pleasant memories of his boyhood in the Scouts, recounting the magic and majesty of his troop's first hike to a mountaintop at dawn in northern California.

As Rice speaks, Shepard shows us archival images - from promotional films and home movies - of Boy Scouts at work and play. The home movies offer visual ballast for Rice's memories, while the images from Boy Scout promotional films raise it to a more universal level, of a nation's young men in training. These shots are reminiscent of the images of Boy Scouts that Norman Rockwell created for the Saturday Evening Post magazine.

Viewers soon find out that Rice has been removed as a Scout leader for opposing the organization's anti-gay policy. Rice is heterosexual. His opposition is based on his conviction that banning Scouts for being truthful about their sexual orientation goes against the core values of scouting.

From Rice and his memories, we quickly cut to a boy frolicking in the back yard with his collie. It could be Lassie and Tim - that's how iconic the scene appears in Shepard's careful framing. But this 12-year-old boy is named Steven Cozza, and he's one of the most remarkable kids you'll ever meet. Cozza, a standout member of Petaluma's Troop 74, is co-founder along with Rice of Scouting for All, an organization dedicated to ending the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy. Cozza, who also is identified as heterosexual, is at the center of "Scout's Honor," as Shepard tells the story of the fight that Cozza and Rice have entered - and the resulting ostracism and threats.

Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of "Scout's Honor" is the even-handedness with which Shepard treats the Boy Scouts as an institution. Even as the film exposes the contradiction and hypocrisy between the stated values of the Scouts and its anti-gay policy, it still celebrates the idea of scouting and the incredible role it plays in life in the United States, where one out of every five boys nationwide is a Boy Scout.

In the end, this is a film about conscience - Cozza and Rice paying a price for trying to change the Scouts because they love the Scouts. What makes this Sundance Award-winning film rare is that the filmmaker seems as firmly committed to a sense of fair play and good conscience as the people whose stories he tells.


Author: By John Koch, Globe Staff
Date: 06/22/2001
Page: C12 Section: Living

"Scout's Honor," as troubling as it is moving, is about the worst and best of America. It's about prejudice - namely, the expulsion of homosexuals from the Boy Scouts of America - and about protest against the controversial but, so far, legal policy.

At the center of the hourlong documentary, broadcast as part of PBS's excellent "POV" series, is a wonderful profile in courage. Steven Cozza was 12 when he sensed the contradiction between scouting ideals and the discrimination against gays. Cozza, now 16, is straight. "I just couldn't imagine being gay and being discriminated against," he says in Tom Shepard's straightforwardly affecting film. "I just had to stand up."

Young Cozza and 70-year-old David Rice, also from Petaluma, Calif., teamed up to form "Scouting for All" to oppose the Boy Scouts' antigay policies. Both were connected to local Troop 74, Cozza as a model scout, Rice as a longtime scoutmaster with fond memories of years of scouting and teaching Boy Scout values.

Cozza is a latter-day Norman Rockwell creation, endearing and wholesome. He skateboards and plays soccer with his pals; he squinches up his tan, friendly face when his mom pecks his cheek. He's perfect for his role as uncompromising activist and heart-tugging centerpiece of "Scout's Honor." Fueled by his earnestness and a kind of all-American decency, he still reminds us that the good fight can have fallout and that virtue doesn't guarantee victory.

Rice is expelled from the scouts by the national organization for his involvement in Scouting for All. The Cozza family receives threatening phone calls. Steven's dad, Scott, is banished as Troop 74's assistant scoutmaster, and the boy is often ostracized.

Woven into and around Steven's struggle is the legal history of the BSA's antigay policy and the growing campaign against it. We encounter Tim Curran, whose 1981 expulsion catalyzed Rice's fight against the national organization, and follow his battles in the courts.

"Scout's Honor" is a powerfully moving account of resistance that has the inspirational feel of a Capra movie suddenly come to 21st-century life. Steven Cozza, self-effacing and still gallantly fighting for justice, is a young, genuine old-fashioned hero.


'Scout's Honor' offers lessons on standing up for personal beliefs Chicago Tribune;

Chicago, Ill.;
Jun 17, 2001; Donald Liebenson

It's a shame that "Scout's Honor," which will be broadcast Tuesday on WTTW-Ch. 11, airs at 10 p.m. and not earlier in the evening. This documentary offers families, particularly scouting families, much to discuss about responsibility, activism and the role individuals can play in standing up for what they believe.

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, "Scout's Honor" chronicles the controversy surrounding the Boy Scouts of America's policy of excluding homosexual leaders, a right upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It also tells the remarkable story of 12-year-old scout Steven Cozza, who with 70-year-old Scoutmaster David Rice-neither of whom are gay- formed "Scouting for All," an organization dedicated to overturning the BSA's policy. "Sometimes you just gotta do something," Rice states. "You're there, you know, you can, you must."

"Scout's Honor" is not a diatribe against the Boy Scouts. Rather, it examines the irony that the values Cozza took from scouting are what inspired him to take his stand.

San Francisco Chronicle April 13, 2001

Merit Badge for Gay Rights 'Scout's Honor' tells tale of Steve Cozza's struggle for inclusiveness
read story...

The Miami Herald April 27, 2001

'Scouts Honor' looks at 'no-gays' fallout
read story...

Advocate May 22, 2001

'Scout's director' Tom Shepard, the gay filmmaker who documented Steven Cozza's crusade in the PBS film Scout's Honor, says he "had an inkling" the Boy Scout battle would be big By Mike Goodridge
read story...