Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday the military does not fund drag queen shows on military bases. Such drag shows are increasingly occurring around military bases, along with events for children such as Drag Queen Story Hour.
During a committee hearing on the Pentagon’s budget Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., grilled both Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs, to address these events.
The $842 billion Pentagon budget was the topic of the hearing that brought questions from Gaetz about how ready the military is and what its priorities actually are.
“How much taxpayer money goes to fund drag queen story hours on military bases?” Gaetz asked.
“Listen, drag shows are not something that the Department of Defense supports or funds,” Austin replied.
But Gaetz listed off a number of drag activities around bases, starting with one that had been planned in Germany, but was canceled after public condemnation. “Then also at Malmstrom Air Force Base outside of Great Falls, Montana, you had a drag queen story hour for kids. At the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, you put on a drag queen story hour on a Saturday for the first-ever kid-friendly “Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Summer Festival.” And at Nellis Air Force Base, you had the “Drag You Nellis” on June 17.”
“Why are they happening on military bases?” Gaetz asked. “I just showed you the evidence. Why are they happening?”
“I will say again,” Austin said, with strained patience. “This is not something we support or fund.”
“So you think ‘hosting’ a drag queen story hour on a military base isn’t ‘supporting’ the drag queen story hour?” Gaetz continued.
“I stand by what I just said,” Austin said.
“You may stand by it but it’s belied by the evidence over and over again,” Gaetz said.
Milley had a different response than Austin: “I’d like to take a look at those myself and find out what actually is going on there because that’s the first I’m hearing about that kind of stuff. I’d like to take a look at those because I don’t agree with those. I think those things shouldn’t be happening.”
Milley didn’t admit to knowing about it raises a concern about whether he was honest with the committee. In 2021, Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas hosted a drag queen show to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion. The event was well publicized by Newsweek and other publications two years ago.
A spokesperson for the base told Newsweek the base “is committed to providing and championing an environment that is characterized by equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion,” and said “base leaders remain supportive of events and initiatives that reinforce the Air Force’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion toward recognizing the value every one of our airmen brings to the team.”
According to a report in the blog Task and Purpose, “The event was planned by the Nellis Air Force Base Pride committee, which is composed of volunteers from across the base focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives. It was sponsored by the Nellis Top 3, a private group meant to “enhance the morale, esprit de corps, of all enlisted personnel assigned to the [99th Air Base] Wing and to facilitate cooperation between members of the top three enlisted grades, according to the group’s Facebook page, which is now a private page.
Military readiness has become an increasing concern, as enlistments are not keeping up. The Army missed its recruiting target last year by about 15,000, according to Stars and Stripes. The Army sought 60,000 new recruits in 2022 but enlisted only 45,000. For 2023, the service is aiming even higher — for 65,000 new members.
“Fewer than 25% of all young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 qualify academically and physically to serve in the military, according to recent Pentagon data. Many of them can’t pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test that measures potential recruits’ aptitude and fitness to serve,” the publication said in February.