The National Trust has reversed a decision to ban volunteers working at a country house who refused to wear a rainbow Pride badge from customer facing roles.
Volunteers at 17th-century Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk were asked to wear a lanyard or badge with a rainbow flag when meeting and greeting guests.
The temporary addition to the uniform was part of the Prejudice and Pride campaign marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales.
Felbrigg Hall (The National Trust)
But a controversy ensued when around 30 out of 350 volunteers who were asked to wear the badges declined and were assigned duties away from the public.
On Saturday, the National Trust issued a statement saying that the rainbow badges or lanyards would now be “optional”.
A spokesperson said: “We are aware some volunteers had conflicting, personal opinions about wearing the rainbow lanyards and badges.
“That was never our intention. We are therefore making it clear to volunteers that the wearing of the badge is optional and a personal decision.”
Until Saturday, the organisation had said volunteers would simply be given an alternate role if they did not want to wear the badge or lanyard.
The trust’s director general Dame Helen Ghosh wrote in the Telegraph on Saturday that volunteers were “free to step back from the volunteer role or take a different role for the duration” of the Prejudice and Pride installation
The move was celebrated by some, including controversial broadcaster Katie Hopkins, who wrote on Twitter: “Grateful thanks to @nationaltrust for the U-turn. Well done to loyal volunteers for standing strong.”
The campaign previously proved controversial when it was claimed that the apparent revelation that Felbrigg Hall’s former owner Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was gay amounted to him being “outed”.
Ketton-Cremer’s sexuality was not secret to those who knew him, Stephen Fry’s short film The Unfinished Portrait – which you can watch in full below – showed, but it was latterly airbrushed out of history and not mentioned to visitors to the Hall.
Volunteer Mike Holmes told the Eastern Daily Press: “Wymondham-Cremer would’ve turned in his grave to know what’s happening.
“He was an intensely private man, he was never open about his sexuality.”
Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer (The National Trust)
“The National Trust looks after grounds and buildings, they do not have the right to research their benefactor’s private lives to suit the needs of a marketing campaign. It’s abhorrent.”
Holmes added: “People are getting ill over this, they’re losing sleep because they’re missing out on a big part of their daily lives and doing something they love so much.”
However, a National Trust spokesperson said: “We are proud to share a fuller portrait of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer and do not attach shame to his sexuality.
“The people we interviewed were clear that we weren’t ‘outing’ Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer because amongst those who knew him, this was widely accepted.”
An email written by the hall’s general manager Ella Akinlade has been seen by The Daily Telegraph and explained the reason for previously insisting public-facing staff wearing the lanyard.
“To coincide with the campaign we would like staff and volunteers to wear the rainbow lanyards or badges as this is an internationally recognised symbol of inclusivity,” she said.
The Unfinished Portrait (The National Trust)
“However, we appreciate that we have not given everyone much time to think about this. Ideally we would have had more time to introduce the programme but this has developed very quickly.
“We respect people’s decisions to opt out of wearing the lanyard. If this is the case please come and talk with us and during this period we will ask you not to be on duty in a visitor-facing role.”
The Trust’s head of volunteering Annabel Smith had added in a statement: “As part of our Prejudice and Pride programme our staff and volunteers are wearing rainbow badges and lanyards, as an international symbol of welcome.
“We do recognise that some volunteers may have conflicting, personal opinions. However whilst volunteering for the National Trust we do request and expect individuals to uphold the values of the organisation. We encourage people with any concerns to chat to our teams.”
In the short film which partly sparked the “outing” controversy, Fry said: “Official accounts of Robert’s life tend to offer only a partial story, and neglect to incorporate what was widely accepted by those who knew him.
“The truth is, when researching Robert’s life, we find many accounts that openly acknowledge his homosexuality.”
Watch The National Trust and Stephen Fry’s short film The Unfinished Portrait below: