News (USA)

National Park Service reverses ban on uniformed rangers at Pride events

Members of the OhioHealth group carry balloons during the 2017 Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade in Columbus, Ohio on June 17, 2017.
Members of the OhioHealth group carry balloons during the 2017 Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade in Columbus, Ohio. Photo: Brooke LaValley / USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN

The National Park Service (NPS) has reversed its prohibition on employees marching in Pride events in uniform. The prohibition, outlined in a May 9 memo to NPS employees, was met with outrage and media coverage since park rangers had marched in Pride events nationwide in previous years.

In a clarification memo to NPS leadership, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrote, “I am directing [NPS] Bureau leaders or their designated officials to determine how and when bureaus should participate in these externally organized events. This could include marching units in parades, booths at parades, events etc. This would allow employees to participate in uniform representing their respective bureau. This direction takes effect immediately.”

Haaland added that further guidance on the implementation of the policy will be provided to NPS offices in the near future, but stated, “Bureau leaders or designated officials must apply consistent criteria for determining the appropriate nature of participation.”   

Haaland’s clarification contradicts a May 9 memo, sent out by Frank Lands, deputy director of operations for NPS, which prohibited uniformed NPS employees from marching in public events that “could be construed as agency support for a particular issue, position, or political party.”

“More and more employees are now asking to participate in uniform in non-NPS events that support a wide variety of topics and causes,” Lands’ memo said. “Previous interpretations of our uniform policy were inconsistent and did not receive the comprehensive review we are currently working through,” it added.

“Parades and similar events are seen as a form of communication, both for the organizers and participants, so participation by uniformed employees would be viewed as communication on behalf of the NPS,” the memo’s Q&A section added. While NPS policies state that employees can request a waiver to the prohibition, NPS employees said they had never had to get supervisor approval to march in past Pride events.

LGBTQ+ NPS employees spoke out against Lands’ memo, calling it a “cowardly” surrender to anti-LGBTQ+ far-right forces and a “distraction” from the work of queer NPS employees. Employees said the involvement of NPS members in Pride events helps provide visibility to the LGBTQ+ people who have been historically underrepresented in the nation’s parks and honors LGBTQ+ people forced out of government jobs during the “Lavender Scare” period of the late 1940s through ’60s.

“I see Pride as a key service to the public, and I see stepping away from that as a political statement,” one employee said. “I see denying this decadeslong tradition as cowardly, and I see it as validating the far-right provocateurs who are trying to push into political discourse whether or not queer people can exist.”

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