Pentagon Axes Drag Shows on Military Bases After Republican Criticism

The administration of President Joe Biden has stopped U.S. military bases from hosting drag shows after criticism from some GOP members and amid a broader push in conservative-led states that target LGBTQ+ celebrations. 

According to Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh in a Thursday statement, hosting drag shows is “inconsistent with regulations regarding the use of (Defense Department) resources.”

As a result, at least one show was canceled. 

Organizers of an event at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base canceled a drag show timed to coincide with Pride Month, which began Thursday, according to a Facebook post. 

In her statement, Singh didn’t directly address LGBTQ+ rights but said the Department of Defense was “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.”

GOP Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who criticized top leaders at the Pentagon earlier this year while questioning them about drag shows, tweeted that the cancellation was a “HUGE VICTORY!”

“Drag shows should not be taking place on military installations with taxpayer dollars PERIOD!” added Gaetz. 

Drag shows feature entertainers who act and dress as a different gender. They are often part of Pride events and frequently include colorfully dressed drag queens reading books to children. Supporters say they promote acceptance and celebrate people of different sexual orientations. 

Opponents of the shows accuse organizers of drag shows of trying to “sexualize” children. Drag shows occasionally draw protestors, and a bevy of GOP-led legislatures have passed bills in recent months to restrict or ban them. 

Previously, Nellis Air Force Base hosted drag performers. According to Task and Purpose, a military publication, around 180 people attended a similar show in 2021. 

The Pentagon’s cancellation of the show this week led the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ+ civil rights, to criticize Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Directly. 

 “Before today, Secretary Austin has been unwavering in his support for LGBTQ+ Americans who proudly serve in uniform said the group in a statement. “However, instead of truly standing up for our community on the first day of Pride, he chose to side with the politics of fear and discrimination peddled by extreme members of Congress.”

Shows at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Nellis Force Base in Nevada scheduled for this month were canceled, defense officials and participants confirmed. The two officials confirmed to Military.com that the cancellations were part of a direction from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that drag shows that the political right has targeted are not to be hosted on bases.

The show at Nellis, whose cancellation was first reported by NBC News, drew sharp criticism from Republican politicians in recent weeks, including a letter from conservative critic GOP Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, sent to Austin, in which he called the event an “outright attack on children.” 

Although a drag event last year at Ramstein faced similar attacks, this year’s event had flown under the radar, and the LGBT community on base had eagerly been anticipating Pride Month. 

“We’re celebrating that we get to survive,” said a member of the drag troupe that was scheduled to perform at a bar on Ramstein and whose partner is an active-duty service member, Lane Fox, to Military.com Thursday.

“The idea is that we have these public events because, for the longest time, we weren’t able to do that because you’d get arrested and beaten and killed,” said Fox while choking up. “And now I wake up on June 1, and it’s all corporate pride, and there’s rainbows in every ad, and then at the bottom of the rainbow is this big pot of festering lies and hate and fear.”

Broader on-base drag ban comes amid statement in support of Pride Month

News of the broader on-base drag ban comes as defense officials, including Secretary Austin, issued statements supporting Pride Month. 

“As secretary of defense, I remain dedicated to making sure that our LGBTQ+ personnel across the joint force can continue to serve the country that we all love with dignity and pride — this month and every other one,” said Austin in a Thursday statement. 

While a Defense Department spokesperson wouldn’t directly confirm Austin issued a new order that banned on-base drag shows, they suggested such performances violate existing department regulations that govern on-base events that private organizations host. 

During a March hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Gaetz pressed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley and Austin about drag shows hosted on military bases. Austin repeatedly told Gaetz that such events, which are typically sponsored by community groups, are “not something that the department supports or funds.”