Pentagon officials will no longer allow shows involving drag performers to be hosted at military facilities following pressure from Republican lawmakers to prohibit the practice.
Republicans in various states have seized on drag as a contentious issue in the modern-day culture wars, with many GOP lawmakers seeking to ban public drag performances in the name of protecting children from being exposed to potentially inappropriate material.
Some overzealous law enforcement authorities in Nashville even went so far as to threaten singer Hayley Kiyoko with legal action earlier this year over having drag queens on stage with her as part of her concert tour — despite the fact the Tennessee law seeking to ban drag shows in public had been blocked by the courts.
But conservatives have also seized on drag shows as emblematic of the military’s overall LGBTQ-inclusive service and recruiting policies, with many arguing that allowing drag shows at military facilities is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, undermines military readiness by weakening soldiers’ resolve, and hampers the military’s recruiting efforts by making military service unpalatable to social conservatives, especially those from the South or so-called “red states.”
“Per DoD Joint Ethics Regulation (JER), certain criteria must be met for persons or organizations acting in non-federal capacity to use DoD facilities and equipment,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said in a statement to Politico. “As [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has said, the DoD will not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities. Hosting these types of events in federally funded facilities is not a suitable use of DOD resources.”
While the Pentagon’s longstanding official policy has prohibited drag shows from being performed on base, that policy has not always been enforced as lower levels, Singh said.
The clarification comes after a planned drag show celebrating Pride Month, which had been scheduled to take place on Thursday at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, was canceled following pressure from congressional Republicans.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 29, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) questioned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about “Drag Queen Story Hours” and similar events occurring on military bases, which were trumpeted by right-wing media as an example of the Armed Forces embracing “woke” ideology.
In response, Austin said it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on military facilities, while Milley asked to see the flyers for the events Gaetz was referring to, saying he was unaware of the events and does not support them being held at military facilities.
When Milley was informed this week about the planned drag show at Nellis Air Force Base, he was reportedly “visibly angry.” He demanded that the event be canceled or moved off base, according to government and Department of Defense officials. Air Force officials subsequently canceled the event.
According to a Pentagon official who spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity, this week’s cancellation marks the first time the Pentagon’s most senior leaders have demanded that the prohibition on drag be enforced.
For example, Yeoman 3rd Class Joshua Kelley previously performed in drag as “Harpy Daniels” while serving on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan from 2016 to 2018 — a revelation that, unsurprisingly, sparked conservative outrage and earned much ink from right-wing media outlets.
Military commanders had previously allowed DoD facilities to be used to host drag shows, with Nellis hosting its first show two years ago, on June 17, 2021.
But the base also reportedly told right-wing website Breitbart at the time that a private social organization, Nellis Top 3, sponsored the first show.
The base defended hosting the drag event, arguing it could help “boost morale” and entertain service members while allowing them to relax, in addition to promoting inclusivity, according to Newsweek.
On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter to Austin and Milley detailing six other cases where drag shows or events had been approved at military facilities and demanded that they provide information about the events, including whether any punitive action was taken against event organizers, according to NBC News.
In a similar move, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) sent a letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday demanding he publicly reveal the names of officers “responsible for funding and promoting drag queen performances aboard naval vessels.”
A group of eight other House Republicans sent their own letter to Austin that same month demanding he halt all drag events in the military, singling out the performances as a key reason influencing the declining interest in enlisting among young people, according to Fox News.
“We should be focused on deterring China and other adversaries, not drag shows, which do nothing to enhance our deterrence and warfighting capabilities,” the lawmakers wrote.
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