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National Park Service reverses Pride ban for employees in uniform after backlash from LGBTQ+ community

Park ranger at Stonewall National Monument, which is part of the National Park Service
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland reversed an earlier policy forbidding employees from participating in uniform, which caused uproar.

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Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland reversed on Friday a National Park Service directive that would have barred employees from participating in LGBTQ+ Pride Month events while in uniform. The initial policy, issued on May 17, led to widespread backlash from the LGBTQ+ community.

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The memo, first obtained by Politico Pro, had stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS,” conflicted with the agency’s policy. This move marked a considerable shift from the agency’s history of supporting LGBTQ+ visibility.

In response, Haaland sent an email to all NPS employees on Friday afternoon, reversing the directive. NPS operates under the Interior Department.

“I want to ensure that every employee has the opportunity to thrive in a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment,” Haaland wrote in the message which The Advocate obtained.

Haaland’s email emphasized the importance of Special Emphasis Months, which include observances for LGBTQ+ Pride.

“One way in which we support and celebrate who we are at the Department is through programs organized around Special Emphasis Months, which have been identified by Presidential Proclamation, Executive Orders, and public law to ensure that federal agencies take affirmative steps to provide equal opportunity in all areas of employment,” she wrote. “In addition to events and activities organized by the Department and/or individual bureaus and offices, sometimes there are externally organized events and activities that further the same goals as those in the Special Emphasis Months.”

Special Emphasis Programs at the Department of the Interior include observances for American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, Black Employment, Federal Women’s Program, Hispanic Employment, Individuals with Disabilities and Disabled Veterans, Juneteenth, LGBTQ+ Pride, and Women’s Equality Day.

Haaland directed bureau leaders to determine how and when to participate in these events. “This could include marching units in parades, booths at parades, events, etc.,” she wrote. “This would allow employees to participate in uniform representing their respective bureau.” Haaland added, “This direction takes effect immediately.”

Pattie Gonia, a climate activist and drag artist who had appeared in a promotional video with Haaland, who is Native American, in October to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, organized a call to action after the initial policy was revealed.

In a statement to The Advocate, Pattie Gonia praised the efforts of LGBTQ+ Park Service employees and highlighted the need for safeguards to prevent bias in approving Pride event participation.

“We are communicating with our park service contacts to gather their feedback on this policy update,” she wrote. “In the meantime, we congratulate queer park service employees on the great lengths that they have gone to secure this reversal. We thank the National Park Service and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland for listening to their employees as well as the general public. We remain cautious on how the updated policy will be implemented.”

Pattie Gonia stressed the importance of implementing safeguards to ensure that employees and employee resource groups can appeal any denials of permission to participate in events, as local park leadership might have personal views that conflict with the new policy.

"This is proof that when queer people fight we win," Pattie Gonia added. "This is proof that it is never too late to do the right thing."

GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis also commended the employees who spoke out.

“Our National Parks and the public servants who work there are treasures valued by every American. Employees should be able to express support for Pride and all celebrations that bring people together to reflect the beautiful diversity of our country and people,” Ellis told The Advocate. “We owe thanks to Park Service employees who spoke up about the discriminatory policy and who work every day to make all feel welcome to enjoy the parks that belong to all of us.”

National press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, Brandon Wolf, celebrated the announcement as well.

“This is good news,” Wolf told The Advocate. “The National Park Service plays a crucial role in recognizing and celebrating LGBTQ+ people, including by preserving historic sites like Stonewall and allowing its employees to participate in Pride. Recent years have seen an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks that have put LGBTQ+ people across the country in crisis and it’s important that the Biden-Harris Administration, the most pro-equality in history, are continuing to demonstrate their support for the community.”

The Advocate contacted the Department of the Interior but did not immediately hear back on Saturday.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).