Drag shows can no longer be held on U.S. military installations, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed.
“The Secretary [of defense] has said DoD will not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities, consistent with long-standing policy,” Singh told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
Singh’s comments mirror what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in response to questions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) during a March 29 House Armed Services Committee hearing.
“‘Drag queen story hours’ is not something that the department funds,” Austin told lawmakers.
When Gaetz pressed Austin by saying that some military bases were holding drag performances, the defense secretary replied, “I will say again: This is not something that we support or fund.”
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NBC News first reported on Wednesday that Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had stepped in to stop Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada from holding a drag show that had been scheduled to take place on June 1 to mark Pride Month.
“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,” Singh said. “As Secretary 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 inconsistent with regulations regarding the use of DoD resources.”
The Defense Department’s stance that drag shows are no longer permissible on military bases and facilities comes after repeated attacks by Republican lawmakers, who have accused the U.S. military of spending too much time on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion rather than preparing for war.
Ramstein Air Base in Germany canceled a Pride Month event last year, at which a drag performer was expected to read to children at the base library after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote a letter to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in which he described the event as “publicly funded propaganda.”
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) also introduced a bill last year that would have prevented the Defense Department from using money to organize or host drag shows following a July 30, 2022 festival at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, at which a Navy sailor was supposed to perform in drag – even though the sailor did not attend the event.
“We are proud to serve alongside any and every young American who takes the oath that puts their life on the line in defense of our country,” Singh said on Thursday. “Service members and their families are often involved in a host of special interest activities related to their personal hobbies, beliefs, and backgrounds.”
Austin also issued a statement on Thursday to mark Pride Month, in which he said he continued to be dedicated to making sure that all gay, lesbian, and transgender troops and civilians can serve with pride and dignity.
“I believe that the story of America should be one of widening freedom, not deepening discrimination,” Austin said in the statement. “In 2021, I was honored to implement President Biden’s directive to ensure that transgender Americans who wish to serve and meet Department standards are able to do so—openly and free from discrimination.”
SPARTA, an advocacy group for transgender service members, has no official stance on the Defense Department regulations regarding drag performances, said the group’s president Emily Shilling.
“Although some drag performers do identify as trans, transgender issues are primarily based on personal identity and not performance,” Shilling told Task & Purpose. “SPARTA is focused on legislation and service policies that allow transgender service members to live authentically while making our military more ready to fight and win wars.”
However, the Modern Military Association of America, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, and transgender troops and veterans, issued a statement on Thursday saying it is “deeply troubled” by the Defense Department’s standpoint on drag performances at military bases.
“This ban on drag shows and story hours and concerned that censorship of LGBTQ-friendly events sends the message to LGBTQ+ members of the armed forces that wearing their preferred clothing or acting in a manner different from the gender assigned to them at birth is unacceptable,” the statement reads. “With anti-drag bills being introduced in at least 14 states and passed in Tennessee, LGBTQ+ service members and their families may face risks in the states they are stationed by no choice of their own.”
Lindsay Church, CEO of Minority of Veterans of America, said the Defense Department’s policy preventing military bases from holding drag shows is galling, especially as it comes amid efforts by lawmakers to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
Military drag shows are not a recent phenomenon, Church told Task & Purpose. During World War II, American servicemen would dress up as women for shows that were part of the military’s morale and readiness campaigns.
Service members should also be allowed to be themselves in their off time, said Church, who served in the Navy at a time when gay and lesbian troops risked being involuntarily separated unless they hid their sexual orientation.
“To see this now, at the beginning of Pride Month, is a doubling down of the cowardice behind not showing up for your people,” Church said. “And to me, it’s going back on Secretary Austin’s commitment to take care of the people.”
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