Scroll To Top
News

National Park Service cracks down on Pride leaving LGBTQ+ rangers feeling betrayed

Stonewall National Monument sign and rainbow flags
Michael Vi/Shutterstock

Recently, the National Park Service issued a memo barring employees from attending Pride parades in uniform. Official participation appears uncertain, and many LGBQT+ Rangers are feeling defeated.

@ErinInTheMorn

On May 17, the National Park Service officially determined that park rangers and other employees cannot attend Pride festivities and parades in uniform. This decision reverses a long history of allowing such participation and even having official delegation in Pride parades across the United States. Anonymous LGBTQ+ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as multiple parades finalize and applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed. The move comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ+ people nationwide. In most cases, Republican legislators and appointees have been behind such bans, but this time, it appears the National Park Service, led by a Biden-approved director, is restricting park participation in LGBTQ+ celebrations.

The decision was first disclosed in a memo to NPS employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with National Park policy. The specific provision cited states that NPS employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from LGBTQ+ employees who assert that LGBTQ+ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. Employees also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

NPS Email outlining the change May 9, 2024

NPS Email outlining the change May 9, 2024

In a follow-up, the National Park Service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents. Meanwhile, it stated that NPS participation in Pride “could imply agency support… on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ+ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that NPS official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern immediately spread among National Park Service employees and LGBTQ+ members of the general public. They noted that the National Park Service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ+ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad. They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the National Park Service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

Pride Parade Celebration from the Department of the Interior at Stonewall

Pride Parade Celebration from the Department of the Interior at Stonewall

One Park Service employee, speaking under the condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

I reached out to an NPS spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the NPS would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park's mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

The determination that participation in Pride events could be too political is questionable. The founding documents for Stonewall National Monument relate directly to the “resources and values” of the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, National Park Service Resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.” By barring employees from wearing pins showing their identities and by pulling out of Pride festivals, the NPS ironically may appear to be erasing and marginalizing its LGBTQ+ employees.

National Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the National Park Service requested that a group of LGBTQ+ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially banned from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to ban her and other LGBTQ+ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many National Park Service contingents have participated in Pride events.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform NPS employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain National Parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities. The prospect of individual or small LGBTQ+-affiliated Park Ranger celebrations in city Pride events appears even dimmer, with little hope of being allowed to participate.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from an NPS spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and Tribal engagement). This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month.
Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park's mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.
Last week, the Service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy – specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-Park Service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.
NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same. And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

This article originally appeared on Erin in the Morning.

@ErinInTheMorn
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Erin Reed

Erin Reed (she/her) is a transgender journalist based in Washington, D.C.. She tracks LGBTQ+ legislation around the United States for her subscription newsletter, ErinInTheMorning.com. Her work has been cited by the AP, Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many more major media outlets. You can follow her on twitter and tiktok @ErinInTheMorn.
Erin Reed (she/her) is a transgender journalist based in Washington, D.C.. She tracks LGBTQ+ legislation around the United States for her subscription newsletter, ErinInTheMorning.com. Her work has been cited by the AP, Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many more major media outlets. You can follow her on twitter and tiktok @ErinInTheMorn.