Safe Space Campaign: A Statement by Brecken Chinn Swartz
Brecken Chinn Swartzis the wife of an LDS bishop and lives in the East Coast.
On September 17, 2004, she issued the following statement:
One early morning in college, I got a call from my best friend. He had been admitted suddenly to a mental institution overnight and needed me to bring him his toothbrush and some clothes. He had tried to commit suicide. I knew he had been struggling increasingly with something, but I had no idea what it was. I rushed to the hospital and found him there, his eyes full of tears, terror, and trauma. My friend told me he was gay and wanted to die.
He had been raised as a southern Baptist. He was our high school band president, college class president, one of the most compassionate and responsible and dedicated people I had ever met. I had known him since high school, and he had dated girls for years, although I knew somehow intuitively that it was hard for him. He had joined a fraternity in college, and his first thought on the morning after his attempted suicide was that he couldn't imagine facing them. The whole "straight" facade he had tried so hard for years to construct and maintain was just too exhausting to maintain for a lifetime. The only options he could envision for his future was living a lie, or living as an outcast, or killing himself. I struggled to help him think of another option.
He told me that he realized he was gay in elementary school. The boys in his neighborhood had been looking through "girly" magazines, and the images there had left him completely uninterested. There was a picture of a man in one of the magazines, though, and he remembers being aroused for the first time. He spent years trying to find that one picture again, secretly wondering what was wrong with him and why he didn't act like the other "normal" boys around him.
Frankly speaking, I could have told he was gay long before that day. Something inside me knew. The other kids in school knew somehow, too-he was teased for being "effeminate" for years-and so he had tried elaborately to cover over his tendencies rather than embracing them. Facing him there in the mental hospital that morning, though, I had a choice of how to react. I just hugged him when I heard the news and said, "I know. Finally I have an explanation for why your room is always so much better-decorated than mine." We laughed, and it was the start of the healing process, for both of us.
From that day forward, all of us who loved this guy learned to embrace his nature, celebrating the amazing man that he was rather than mourning the so-called "normal man" that he wasn't. He had me bring his fraternity members to him in the hospital so that he could "come out" on his own terms, and the understanding and compassion I witnessed was truly beautiful. His being gay didn't make anyone else gay or take anyone down the slippery slope toward licentiousness. We just learned to make room for each other, to exercise a more pure and open faith in God and humanity than I had ever witnessed up to that point.
As a bishop's wife and faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have been suffering from a severe cognitive dissonance over the Church's stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. As the debate becomes increasingly politicized, I have been praying for increased light and knowledge to help me reconcile my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with my understanding that homosexuality is not a choice, nor is it necessarily a sin. The Lord has answered me clearly, and my soul has been enlarged and filled with love in the process.
The Safe Space Campaign was an idea that came to me through participation in an LDS listserve. Some of us decided that the Church's current stated positions endorsing conservative "family values" don't necessarily reflect the sentiments of ALL church members, so we wanted to make a peaceful and affirmative statement that we hope might widen the conversation and allow regular members of the church a chance to consider whether the church ought to be a safe space for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
I wrote the Safe Space Declaration myself, mainly as a way to preserve my sanity within the Church. I wrote it out of compassion for my best friend, for whose life I've been trying to fight ever since his attempted suicide. I know there are many outstanding members of the church out there who remain closeted out of fear, and we just want to send them a message that can provide a little bit of hope.
A few months ago, I heard remarks by former Relief Society Presidency member Sheri Dew at a conference wherein she compared those who don't actively oppose homosexuality to those who supported the rise of Hitler. Her line of reasoning caused me to think for a long time about what Hitler actually represented. Hitler had worked to exterminate gays, branding them with pink triangles and treating them as subhuman. Ironically, after World War II, Holocaust survivors were released--except for the homosexual prisoners, who were transferred to Allied prisons. Even in this day and age, the extermination campaign against them continues--through institutions that force them to either hide, change, or kill themselves. I realized that standing with Hitler means standing for persecution and extermination. Standing against him means standing for tolerance and love.
The Safe Space campaign is designed to be peaceful and affirming rather than confrontational. The color pink is used to remind us of the horror of Hitler's pink triangles, and to embrace the international movement striving to overcome intolerance with love. Sending pink flowers is simply a means for regular members of the Church to express their commitment to a community that is open, inclusive, compassionate, and tolerant of all people.