The military's top uniformed officer suggested Wednesday he does not support drag shows being hosted on military bases, something that has been done for years to boost morale and show support for LGBTQ members of the military community but which has come under attack by Republicans as part of their war on "wokeness."
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday, conservative firebrand Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., grilled Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley on several recent drag events that have become extensively discussed in conservative media, including a planned "Drag Queen Storytime" that Ramstein Air Base, Germany, canceled last year after GOP criticism.
"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," Milley said after Gaetz read several headlines from conservative outlets about the drag events. "I'd like to take a look at those because I don't agree with those. I think those things shouldn't be happening."
A spokesperson for Milley told Military.com after the hearing that the general was expressing opposition to the use of taxpayer funding for non-military activities on military bases.
Drag events on military bases are often sponsored by private groups. For example, a 2021 show at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that drew conservative ire and was among those that Gaetz cited Wednesday was sponsored by a private organization, the base stressed at the time.
"Drag queen story hours is not something that the department funds," Austin repeated several times when asked about the events Wednesday.
Gaetz quickly seized on Milley's testimony on his social media feeds, claiming the general "commit[ed] to ENDING drag queen story hour events on military bases" -- something Milley neither said nor has the authority to do.
Republicans have targeted drag shows as part of a broader campaign against LGBTQ acceptance in the military, falsely portraying drag performers as "groomers" who are preying on children. Tennessee approved a law earlier this month restricting where drag shows can be performed, and about a dozen other GOP states are considering similar proposals.
Critics say the GOP moves and rhetoric have dangerous consequences, pointing to incidents such as the arrest of dozens of white nationalists last year who were allegedly planning to disrupt a Pride event in Idaho.
Drag, in which performers dress in exaggerated clothing and styles of the opposite sex, dates back to the Elizabethan era when only men were allowed to perform on stage and often played the parts of women in costume. In modern days, it is popular entertainment in LGBTQ communities as a celebration of self-expression and acceptance.
While military officials have sometimes given in to criticism of the events, such as the canceled storytime at Ramstein last year, they have also defended hosting drag shows to boost morale and acceptance.
"Ensuring our ranks reflect and are inclusive of the American people is essential to the morale, cohesion and readiness of the military," a Nellis Air Base base spokesman told Yahoo News in 2021. "Nellis Air Force Base is committed to providing and championing an environment that is characterized by equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion."
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.