For Gary Bremen, 2016 was a special year.

An interpretive ranger for the National Park Service, Bremen participated in the agency’s centennial celebrations throughout the year. Working out of Biscayne National Park, Bremen leads boat tours, hikes and various other informational exercises into the natural world.

But it took a gay bar in New York City to open a new chapter in his career.  

“I feel like the creation of Stonewall National Monument has given me permission to talk about things I never felt I could talk about or was afraid to talk about before,” Bremen said.

The Park Service’s designation of Stonewall Inn as a National Monument was part of an overall effort to broaden the nation’s narrative. Incorporating stories from America’s minority communities adds to the country’s rich history.

In announcing Stonewall’s designation, the White House issued the following statement: “From major legislative achievements to historic court victories to important policy changes, the President has fought to promote the equal rights of all Americans – no matter who they are or who they love.”

Bremen was at the Stonewall designation and marched –in uniform – in last summer’s pride parade in New York City. He would tell his coming out story at a program in Wilton Manors titled “Songs and Stories of Our National Parks.”

“That was a career highlight for me,” Bremen said.

Bremen’s coming out story delves into an 18-year relationship with his partner Roger and the couple’s journey into the Grand Canyon for self-discovery.

Waking up early one morning, Bremen ventured into the Canyon and hiked down the South Kaibab trail. As the sun began to rise, the colors and landscape came to life.

“After 32 years, I was coming to terms with who I really was,” Bremen said. “I began to look at the Canyon as a metaphor for my life. It was dark and coming out into the light. All the rough, craggy edges were smoothed out by the snow…like a brand new beginning. For over twenty years, I too had been lurking in the shadows, ashamed of who I was because so many around me told me I should be. I had never doubted that I was gay; I just never thought I would say those words aloud.”

Bremen grew up in Miami. He decided he wanted to be a park ranger at age 7 and by 12 knew he was gay. Raised Catholic, Bremen discovered there were others like him when his mother decided to sign Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” petition.

“I knew exactly who I was at age 12 and knew it was something to never speak about,” he recalls.

He is speaking about it now – and with the government’s blessing.  In addition to Wilton Manors, Bremen’s “Songs and Stories of Our National Parks” has played in Sarasota and Coral Gables.

Bremen describes the program as a “throwback program” with a campfire stories theme.

“I was pretty nervous about telling my coming out story at Coral Gables High School because that is where I did my student teaching,” he said. “In fact, we did the program in the same classroom that I did my student teaching. I started to twitch as I walked in. I was nervous about telling my coming out story to kids who laughed and made fun of me when I was a kid. But it wasn’t that way this time, there was no laughs or snickers. It’s just normal for them now.”

Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Justin Flippen knows Bremen well. The men are good friends and have a competitive relationship when it comes to visiting America’s great outdoors.

“The amazing wealth of the quality of our residents is exemplified in neighbors like Gary Bremen who with his role in the National Park Service demonstrates a commitment to the preservation of our nation’s natural beauty and diverse heritage,” said Flippen. “Gary and I share a true love of our national parks, visiting over half of the 400-plus sites managed by the National Park Service. His role in the Park Service preserving LGBT heritage is important so that our story can be told and remains protected and visibly interwoven into the fabric of our great nation’s history.”

Biscayne is a mostly marine park with four different ecosystems – mangrove forest, the bay, the keys and coral reefs – coexisting. Biscayne received its national park status in 1980 and a video, featuring Bremen, can be seen at the park’s Dante Fascell Visitor Center just a few miles east of Homestead.

Gary and Roger call Wilton Manors home, but the Grand Canyon will always have their heart. It was on the Canyon’s North Rim, some 8,000 feet above sea level, where the two decided to go gayly into the future.

“I told Roger to close his eyes as I led him to the edge for his first view of the place that got me to this moment,” Bremen said. “This perfect moment when every pinnacle, ledge, crack and crevice of this perfectly imperfect place was revealed in the growing light. We sat, hand-in-hand, on the opposite side of this miles-wide gash in the earth, and watched the sunrise together.”