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National Park Service clarifies uniform policy

Announcement has implications for Pride

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National Park Service rangers from the Stonewall National Monument march in the 2021 New York City Pride parade. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service’s Facebook page)

BY ERIN REED | The National Park Service on May 17 clarified its policy on employees wearing official uniforms to non-sanctioned events, which has implications for Pride events.

It’s unclear what triggered the clarification. A source at the National Park Service told the Blade in a statement that the uniform policy “has not changed,” but some LGBTQ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The clarification comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ people nationwide.

The announcement was first disclosed in a memo to park service 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 park service policy.

The specific provision cited states that park service 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 some LGBTQ employees who assert that LGBTQ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, 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.

In a follow-up, the 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 park service 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 park service official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern spread among some park service employees . They noted that the 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 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.”

One park service employee, speaking on 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.”

The Blade reached out to a park service spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the park service 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.

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.”

Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the park service requested that a group of LGBTQ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially barred 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 bar her and other LGBTQ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many park service contingents have participated in Pride events.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform park service 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.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from a park service 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.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Becerra, Levine plan to expand health equity in a second Biden-Harris administration

Officials spoke exclusively with the Blade on Monday

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HHS Assistant Health Secretary Adm. Rachel Levine, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

Speaking with the Washington Blade on Monday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Health Secretary Adm. Rachel Levine detailed plans to expand health equity initiatives under a second Biden-Harris administration.

The conversation came shortly after the agency held a Progress Pride flag-raising ceremony, where U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), delivered opening remarks alongside the top HHS officials who also spoke at the department’s second annual Pride Summit later on Monday.

Levine highlighted a slate of recent actions and goals on which to build in a second term: The issuance in April of a final rule clarifying that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited under the Affordable Care Act; a demographic data collection plan on sexual orientation and gender identity metrics; the pursuit of regulations and litigation (coordinated with the Justice Department) to combat healthcare restrictions, including those which target LGBTQ communities; and the agency’s commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

“To put an exclamation point behind some of that,” Becerra said, “on SOGI, we think it’s important to gather the data that lets us figure out where to go next, or where you have issues” in “getting access to the care that you need.”

“And we know we’re going to end up in court with a lot of the rules that we’ve enacted,” added the secretary, who previously served as attorney general of California, “but we’re ready for that — they’ll get tested, and we’re ready to defend [them].”

Becerra added that along with the initiatives outlined by Levine, HHS is looking to expand efforts in the behavioral health space to maximize opportunities to match patients with providers who have shared backgrounds, identities, and lived experiences.

That way, he said, “chances are that individual in need of care is going to open up faster. So we’re going to try to move quicker towards providing, in the behavioral health setting, people with lived experiences who can speak to what this individual is hurting from, is suffering from, so we can try to help them with their behavioral health challenges.”

The secretary praised the Biden-Harris administration’s pro-equality record, noting, “the fact that we’re the first department to fly the Pride flag, I think it shows that we’re out front, and we are very intent on making sure everyone has access to the care that they need.”

“And to do that, you’re going to find yourself in court,” Becerra said. “To do that, you need to do an aggressive job of collecting data. To do that, you have to show people that you can approach them with someone who’s experienced in what they’re going through. And so all of those things have to be amped up if we’re going to make further progress in the next administration’s four years.”

Levine repeatedly credited the secretary’s leadership as well as President Joe Biden’s work advancing equity throughout his administration, including through executive orders, when discussing HHS’s efforts to expand healthcare access and improve health outcomes for diverse populations including the LGBTQ community.

“One of the highlights, I think, of the Biden-Harris administration and Secretary Becerra’s leadership is the the emphasis on building representation in Washington that looks like the people of our country,” said Levine, who became the highest-ranking transgender government official with her appointment as assistant health secretary in 2021.

“Whether it is communities of color, whether it is the LGBTQI+ community, young people, seniors, I mean, we really want the the people who work for the people of our country to look like them and to represent them,” she said.

She also highlighted the extent to which her and Becerra’s work on this front has involved putting boots on the ground. “I’ve been to Austin. I’ve been to Dallas. I’ve been to Nashville. I’m going to Jacksonville. We tried to get to Idaho to Boise, but we got snowed out.”

“We are everywhere,” Levine said, adding that she likes to say the secretary has been doing “everything, everywhere, all at once,” (the title of a critically acclaimed film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2023.)

In a Pride month press release shared by the agency on Monday evening, Becerra said in a statement, “HHS works every day to build an America where LGBTQI+ Americans have access to quality, affordable health care and can go to the doctor without fear of stigma or discrimination. Where the state you live in doesn’t determine whether you can access lifesaving, gender-affirming care. And where more communities embrace the diversity that has always strengthened our national character.”

“Pride reminds us that we are a strong, resilient, and powerful community that fights hate with love,” Levine said. “As we celebrate Pride Month, we should recognize how far we have come, even as we take stock of the challenges that we face. Everything we do at HHS emphasizes health equity and this pride month, we are making a focused effort to address and eliminate the health disparities within the LGBTQI+ community.”

She added, “We are focused on our efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S., prevent syphilis and congenital syphilis, and promote access to care for LGBTQI+ people across America. Together, we can work to support healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy nation for all. I am a positive and optimistic person, and I believe that working together, we can create a healthier, better future for all people living in the United States.”

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Federal Government

Biden-Harris administration takes major step toward reclassifying marijuana

New regulations could lessen criminal penalties for cannabis

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President Joe Biden discusses his administration's move toward reforming drug policy on cannabis (Screen capture: X)

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday took a major step toward loosening the federal government’s regulation of marijuana by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which outlines a proposal to reclassify it under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The move comes pursuant to the Biden-Harris administration’s April 30 announcement of plans to recategorize cannabis as a Schedule III substance, which could substantially lessen the criminal penalties for those convicted of using, possessing, selling, distributing, or cultivating the drug.

A 60-day public comment period will begin after the NPRM is published on the Federal Register, along with a concurrent review of the proposed regulatory reforms by an administrative law judge assigned by the DEA.

Since the CSA was passed in 1971, cannabis has been listed under Schedule I, the category reserved for drugs that are considered to be the most dangerous and lacking any currently accepted medical use in the U.S.

In a press release, a senior administration official noted that “marijuana is currently classified higher than fentanyl and meth – the drugs driving our Nation’s overdose epidemic.”

President Joe Biden posted a video on X in which he said the proposal to house cannabis under the Schedule III regulatory regime constitutes “an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.”

“Today’s announcement builds on the work we’ve already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana,” the president said. “It adds to the action we’ve taken to lift barriers to housing, employment, small business loans, and more for tens of thousands of Americans.”

“Look folks no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “Period.”

The president added, “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana and I’m committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it.”

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Federal Government

US Census Bureau testing survey on LGBTQ households

Agency proposing questions about sexual orientation and gender identity

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The U.S. Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Md. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau)

The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking public comment on a proposed test of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on the American Community Survey. The test would begin this summer and continue into next year.

The Census Bureau published the request as a Federal Register notice. In its press release the agency noted that the ACS is an ongoing survey that collects detailed housing and socioeconomic data. It allows the Census Bureau to provide timely and relevant housing and socioeconomic statistics, even for low levels of geography.

As part of the process for adding new questions to the ACS, the Census Bureau tests potential questions to evaluate the quality of the data collected.

The Census Bureau proposes testing questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to meet the needs of other federal agencies that have expressed interest in or have identified legal uses for the information, such as enforcing civil rights and equal employment measures.

The test would follow the protocols of the actual ACS — with one person asked to respond to the survey on behalf of the entire household. These particular questions are asked about people 15 years of age or older. Households are invited to respond to the survey online, by paper questionnaire or by phone.

The current Federal Register notice gives the public a final opportunity to provide feedback before the Census Bureau submits its recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. The public may provide feedback through May 30 online.

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