The National Trust has reversed a decision to bar volunteers from public-facing duties at a Norfolk stately home if they refuse to wear rainbow sexual equality symbols.
Staff at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk were offered behind-the-scenes roles after saying they were “uncomfortable” wearing multicoloured badges and lanyards for a “Prejudice and Pride” event marking 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The decision came after a new film made by the National Trust revealed that Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, the hall’s last owner who bequeathed it to the nation, was gay.
The land and home conservation charity said on Saturday that wearing the badges was now “optional and a personal decision” for volunteers and staff.
A trust spokesman said: “We remain absolutely committed to our Pride programme, which will continue as intended, along with the exhibition at Felbrigg.
“However, we are aware that 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.”
The change followed an announcement on Friday by Annabel Smith, the trust’s head of volunteering and participation development, who said that volunteers uncomfortable with the badges had been offered “the opportunity to take a break from front-facing duties if that’s what they would prefer”.
She added: “Relating specifically to the Prejudice and Pride programme, 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.”
Dame Helen Ghosh, director general of the National Trust, had defended the original decision in a letter to Saturday’s Daily Telegraph.
She said: “Like many heritage organisations, we have taken the opportunity of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality to tell the story at a dozen or so of our properties of the people who lived there and whose personal lives were outside the social norms of their time.
“At Felbrigg, the generosity of Robert Ketton-Cremer in giving the house to the trust was the result in part of the fact that he had never married and had no heirs to inherit.
“The film and exhibition about his life are sensitive, respectful and celebratory. We believe deeply that our purpose is to make everyone feel welcome at our houses as our founders wanted.”