Pride. Strength, Courage, and Diversity in the National Park Service in Alaska - Part 1

Uploaded by AlaskaNPS on 20.06.2012

Hello, my name is Andrew Gertge and I’m a park ranger in Glacier Bay National Park
and Preserve, a spectacular park in Southeast Alaska. This is my fourth season with the
park service already, and third in Alaska. I’m an interpretive ranger, which means
I give programs to thousands of people, thousands of visitors to our park on large cruise ships
and on smaller tour boats, and even on hikes and walks here in our spectacularly beautiful
temperate rainforest. You know, I haven’t always been a park ranger. In fact, my undergraduate
degree was in economics and French and I was in very much on an international trade and
commerce track. I lived in large cities in East Asia, North America, and in Europe. But
national parks have always been important to me. I grew up in Colorado and Montana and
many of my fondest childhood memories took place in national parks. Rocky Mountain Park
and Yellowstone, in particular. And I also fell in love with a man for the first time
in one of our national parks. So clearly they’re important places to me, as well. But it wasn’t
until living in East Asia, this real compact, concrete experience that I realized just how
vital our national parks are for me. Being able to work in the wildlands of Alaska has
not only helped me recover from living in these large urban areas that really numbed
me to the core, but I have never felt more alive anywhere else. I have also found that
my co-workers here at Glacier Bay have been some of the most incredible inclusive and
affirming community that I have ever experienced, as well. Now I’m fully aware that in Alaska
and working for the federal government in general, we are still working toward full
equality. Yet working alongside such remarkable people in such powerful places makes it all
worthwhile for me. These places continually teach me more about adventure, and about perspective,
and beauty and about hope. And that is what excites me about the future. And that is why
I work for the National Park Service, in Alaska at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
My name is Samantha Richert. And I am the curator at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical
Park in Skagway, Alaska. I chose to work for the National Park Service because it’s the
number one public history agency in the United States and I think that public history is
a really important part of us being better citizens. Sometimes working in a diverse group
means that we have to work harder to understand each other and that is challenging but it
is also very rewarding when we can see the world from other people’s perspectives.
I moved to a very welcoming community that I’m very fond of, but I had to leave behind
a very close knit group of friends that I think of as my queer family in Seattle to
take this job, and that’s been difficult. I would designate the Harvey Milk National
Historical Site, and I would use that site to talk about shared experience that many
gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer people have which is leaving their home communities
and moving to an urban setting so that they can find a very supporting community. And
that experience is something that I think kind of unique to us.
Hi I’m ranger Tim Rains and I’m a media specialist for Denali National Park and Preserve, as
well as the program coordinator for the Denali Artist-in-Residence program and the Denali
arts program. I work for the National Park Service because it’s an opportunity to share
my love of these wild places with others, through photography, music, writing, and the
arts. I remember as a kid visiting Yosemite National Park with my family, and we attended
an evening ranger program held at the Curry Village amphitheater. The ranger was showing
a video montage of different natural highlights at Yosemite all
set to the sounds of violins and piano. There was one image in particular that stuck with
me through the years. It was early morning. Half Dome was reflected on the waters of Mirror
Lake I remember thinking that I wanted to create that art. I wanted to share that story.
It was several years ago that I had my first opportunity to share that story. I was hired
as an interpretive park ranger at Glacier Bay Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska.
There I would board the tour boats and the cruise ships, and I would talk about glaciers,
bears, whales, and wilderness. And it was an amazing first season. However, it was early
in my second season that I got a phone call from my mom, and she was telling me that she
was having heart problems. And as the idea of what that meant sank in I realized that
here is this woman who had taken me to all these different national parks, who had been
influential in my decision to become a National Park Ranger, and yet she didn’t know me
for who I truly was. There was a secret that I kept from her for almost my entire life,
and I kept that secret from the rest of my family, from my co-workers and from my friends.
And I began to struggle with that. There came a point in time when I woke up in the middle
of the night and I could no longer feel the magic of Glacier Bay. And up until that point
places like Glacier Bay and Yosemite had always been somewhere where I could go where the
magic of nature still lives and thrives. A place where I could get in touch with a sense
of who I am and my spirituality. And to no longer feel that? That was devastating. So
I began to talk. And luckily for me I had that strong support network of co-workers
and friends, and began to explore some of those issues. At the same time that was going
on I was also building my programs for the season. I realized that there was a commonality
between the two, that there was a shared message. That we all visit these places with someone
we love. Be it your mother, your father, your sister, maybe it’s your extended family,
a close group of friends, or that special someone. And I began to share that message
with the visitors, and the response I got was huge. There was this great outpouring
of support and they began to share their stories of what
it was like to visit these national parks with the people that they loved. Now over
the course of the season through the strong support of my co-workers and my friends and
the visitors, I was finally able to utter the words “Yes, I am a gay man” for the
first time. And although it may have taken me 32 years to say it, what a beautiful place
to say it for the first time. Now as luck would have it that following season I landed
my dream job in Denali National Park and Preserve. Once again, I was in a place that spoke without
words. I found myself in this vast intense wilderness, and for the first time in my life
I had that opportunity to be in a place of solitude where I could
explore the idea of what does it mean to be a gay man? What does it mean to be a gay man
in rural Alaska? There’s something powerful about the idea that places like this have
been set aside that someone like me who’s struggling can be in a place of solitude,
and can have that opportunity to begin to heal.
Now I live in a remote community just outside the park. There are about 400 people or so
in the wintertime and about 2 to 3,000 people in the summertime. The closest city Fairbanks
is about two hours away. So it is definitely remote. However, I am not alone. There are
other gay men here. When I talk to them about what it means to live in this community, the
general attitude is that it is a live and let live society. However, when I first arrived
I didn’t want to talk about being gay. I didn’t want to let people to know. Because
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to fit in. I was afraid I wouldn’t make friends. I
was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make those necessary contacts to finish
my projects. However, I found that once that once I started talking about it the opposite
was true. I ended up meeting all these great new people. And I was able to focus on my
work more. And my life has actually been far richer for it. When I was growing up I didn’t
want to be labeled as gay. And so I avoided all the common stereotypes. I watched my lisp.
I watched to make sure my hand wasn’t limp. I used phrases like “that’s gay” to
refer to something that didn’t belong even though it hurt inside. And when it came to
career choices I made sure I didn’t go into graphic design, or interior decorating, or
the arts. Cause I didn’t want to be pushed or labeled into that culture. However, when
I met other gay men in the park service they held firefighter jobs, law enforcement. And
I realized they were accepted for who they were and that I would be accepted for who I was.
Part of working for the National Park Service is wearing the uniform. And that means you
get to wear that iconic ranger hat. When you put that hat on it comes with a certain amount
of responsibility. You're being asked to take care of one of the greatest legacies of the
American public. That idea of the national parks is one that is not subject to prejudice,
and that’s when diversity becomes a strength. Because it doesn't matter who you are, what
background you come from, or how you live your life, for the people who love and visit
these places there is someone else out there like you who will listen to your message and
see that if you can be a part of this idea, they can be a part of this idea, as well.
Although I do have the support of my co-workers and my friends it is still difficult to be
a gay man in today’s society because the reality is that I don’t have the same rights
as others. And I recognize that there are still steps that need to be taken to ensure
the equality of all LGBT Americans. However, I am proud to wear the hat, as much as I am
proud of who I am. I do believe that I have the full support of the National Park Service.
They set a high bar of who we can be. And they’re also an active voice for change.
At the end of the day when I’m out hiking and photographing this wilderness, and I’m
watching this sunset over the Alaskan Range, I know in my heart that places like Denali
and Glacier Bay have shaped the man that I am today. And I am forever grateful for that.
This is a beautiful place to be, to live, to work, and ultimately, to love.