A blog from Tracey Byrne, former head of LGCM and then OneBodyOneFaith and the leader of the OuterSpace LGBT+ group at Greenbelt for many, many years …
For many of us, Greenbelt has been the place which has helped us to hold onto our faith; for LGBT+ people that’s perhaps especially so. When the church tells you have nothing to offer, that your gifts aren’t wanted, that your words have no place here, that your life and your loves at best don’t matter and at worst are a problem and an affront to the gospel, then you have to find another place to be, and to become. And that place has been Greenbelt and OuterSpace.
Way back in the late 70s and early 80s, Greenbelt began to wrestle with the theology and practicality of how it should welcome and include LGBT+ people (against an established church backdrop and view that was far more unhelpful and intransigent than even it is today). The festival undoubtedly made mistakes as it tried to open up space for all and dialogue around issues of human sexuality, rights and inclusion in those early days. And it’s fair to say that not everyone at the festival back then was on the same page in terms of the welcome we should have been making to LGBT+ people.
But, our liberation theological worldview energised our progress and our welcome became more inclusive and, slowly but surely, space was made for LGBT+ people to meet together at the festival for encouragement and support. An LGBT+ group emerged within the wider Greenbelt community and over time, this group became known as OuterSpace.
As OuterSpace we started out as a group of gay Greenbelters, with a small suitcase of ‘pamphlets’ with titles like The Bible and the Homosexual. We appealed to Greenbelt for space on the programme. We tentatively suggested speakers. We met for worship.
We shared communion together, which was entirely unspectacular you might think – except, of course, that it was quite extraordinary: this was a space where we didn’t need to hide who we were, or who we loved from ourselves, from one another or from God. Friendships formed, courage grew.
Emboldened, our OuterSpace stall in G-Source* became less victim support, more visible and unapologetic presence. Celebration even. And those festival themes were a gift. ‘Dreams of Home’, for instance – it had to be done really, didn’t it? We still had the lists of recommended reading, the leaflets, the films and panel discussions. But, more than 10 years on, we’ve realised that what really counts is this: LGBT+ people just being together, being visible, being signs and pointers to a different way of being – for each other and for our churches.
*That’s what Greenbelt used to call its exhibitor venue.
So now, it’s the next step on our journey, as Outerspace becomes OUT at Greenbelt – not hiding, but at the heart of the festival, firmly part of Greenbelt’s DNA as one of Greenbelt’s own volunteer teams. Providing a place and a space to tell our stories, to be heard and valued and affirmed.
It’s a time to reflect on how far we’ve travelled, and on who our companions have been along the way. People like Bishop Gene Robinson, Vicky Beeching, Padraig O’Tuama, John Bell, Peterson Toscano, Liz Edman, Rachel Mann, Peter Tatchell. And those other names, too: Sarah, Lou, Alex, Matt, Becky, Luke, Steph, Mark, Stu, and all the others. Those names you won’t know, but whose faces you will. Those who have made Outerspace a good space, and a growing space.
We’ve moved a long way. And so has Greenbelt. Queer programming is now a given, front and centre stage. Extraordinary voices are gathered and curated by people who share our vision, and who share with us their passion for creativity, justice and joy.
But none of us has forgotten the first time we came to Greenbelt, still needing to feel our way a bit, to be affirmed, to be told it’s going to be OK. More than OK.
And that’s what OUT at Greenbelt will be all about; it will continue our witness to this truth: it’s going to be more than OK. It’s going to be glorious. Because you’re the glory of God, only a little less than the angels – whatever you call yourself, and whoever you love.
We are immensely grateful to Tracey and OuterSpace for all they have been within the life of Greenbelt and we look forward to working with Out at Greenbelt as a new festival volunteer team to ensure that we continue to ensure that Greenbelt is a safe and inspiring space for LGBT+ people.