Pentagon cracks down on drag shows at military bases

Last updated on June 1, 2023

The Pentagon will no longer allow shows involving drag performers to be hosted at military facilities, a spokesperson said Thursday, enforcing a longstanding policy amid intensifying pressure from Republican lawmakers to cancel the practice.

Drag shows on military bases have been a contentious issue in recent months as part of a larger push by some Republican lawmakers who say personnel policies including diversity training and racial-justice education distract from warfighting and harm recruiting efforts.

“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. “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.”

This has been DoD’s longstanding policy, but it has not always been enforced at lower levels, Singh said. Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley recently told lawmakers he was not aware of the events occurring.

Service members “are diverse and are allowed to have personal outlets,” Singh added.

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Pentagon leaders canceled a drag show in celebration of Pride Month at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, which was scheduled to take place on Thursday.

The cancellation of the event marked the first time the Defense Department’s most senior leaders have enforced the policy, according to a Defense Department official who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.

Military commanders had previously permitted DoD facilities to be used to host drag events. For example, Yeoman 3rd Class Joshua Kelley performed in drag using the name “Harpy Daniels” during his time serving on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan from 2016 to 2018.

These events had been sanctioned by the department’s morale, wellness and readiness policy, designed to boost spirits and provide troops a break from daily tasks.

Nellis hosted its first drag show on June 17, 2021, telling Breitbart at the time that the event was sponsored by a private organization, Nellis Top 3.

The clampdown comes after House and Senate Republicans this spring grilled Pentagon leaders about the events at military facilities and called on Austin to halt them.

At a March House Armed Services Committee hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pressed Austin and Milley about “drag queen story hours” on bases around the world.

In response, Austin told lawmakers that “drag queen story hours is not something that the department funds.”

Milley said he was not aware of such events and does not support their taking place on military bases.

“I’d like to take a look at those, because I don’t agree with those,” he said.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who is holding up hundreds of senior military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, has also expressed outrage over the issue, sending a May letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday demanding the names of the officers “responsible for funding and promoting drag queen performances aboard naval vessels.”

And House Republicans sent a letter to Austin in May calling on him to “put an end” to drag events in the military.

“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.