Haaland upends NPS uniform ban for Pride parades

By Rob Hotakainen | 05/24/2024 08:33 PM EDT

The Interior secretary issued a new directive late Friday that appeared to override the National Park Service’s recent declaration that uniformed employees could not march in Pride.

National Park Service employees march during the Capital Pride Parade in Washington.

National Park Service employees march during the Capital Pride Parade in Washington on June 10, 2023. Jose Luis Magana/AP

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a directive Friday that could pave the way for National Park Service employees to wear their uniforms in Pride marches celebrating the LGBTQ+ community next month.

In a message released by NPS in the evening, Haaland said she was directing leadership from Interior’s bureaus to review when employees can participate in “externally organized events.” She noted that it is a priority for her that the department participate in “Special Emphasis Months,” which include honoring LGBTQ+ people.

Haaland said the outside events could involve employees participating in marching units in parades and booths at parades, among other things.


“This would allow employees to participate in uniform representing their respective bureau,” she said. “This direction takes effect immediately.”

Haaland’s directive appeared to override an earlier memorandum by NPS Deputy Director Frank Lands, who this month said agency employees would not be allowed to wear their uniforms at Pride events this year.

Lands characterized this decision as the park service enforcing existing policy. However, NPS employees for years have marched in Pride parades across the country.

NPS and Interior officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, NPS said it had begun “working on implementation guidance for parks” based on Haaland’s message, but the agency gave no indication of what would be contained in its new guidance.

In her message, Haaland did not directly mention Pride, but linked to the department’s “Special Emphasis Programs” webpage, which says the programs “are implemented and observed primarily to ensure that all are provided an equal opportunity in all aspects of employment.” The listed programs include those for the LGBTQ+ community, along with other events such as Juneteenth and programs that honor Black and Hispanic employment, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, disabled veterans, and Women’s Equality Day.

Haaland’s directive came as the LGBTQ+ community prepares for celebratory marches around the country that could begin as soon as June 1, the official kickoff of Pride month.

Haaland said she wanted bureau leaders to “apply consistent criteria for determining the appropriate nature of the participation, and who will participate on behalf of the bureau.”

“My hope is that this direction addresses any implementation questions or confusion as we enter a number of Special Emphasis Months,” she said.

Pattie Gonia, a drag queen who helped organize a Pride Parade for employees of Yosemite National Park in California last summer, praised the reversal and said it was proof “that when queer people fight, we win.”

“We remain cautious on how the updated policy will be implemented,” said the environmental activist, who is also known as Wyn Wiley. “Specifically, we believe the updated policy needs safeguards that would enable employees and employee resource groups to appeal any permission denials as permissions will still need to be approved by local park leadership, which may hold personal views that run counter to policy and therefore be inclined to deny permissions.”

In a second memo sent May 20, Lands defended the decision to prohibit NPS employees from marching in Pride parades.

Lands said the agency had “sent the reminder” to employees because more of them were asking to participate in uniform in non-NPS events that supported a wide variety of causes.

“Ultimately, uniformed participation in any non-NPS event is viewed as official communication on behalf of the NPS and therefore on behalf of the United States government,” he said.

Before Haaland’s directive, an NPS spokesperson Friday said employees of the Stonewall National Monument in New York City would be allowed to participate in the city’s Pride parade since the park’s enabling legislation “is rooted in LGBTQ history.”