Defense Department leaders have stepped in to stop a drag show scheduled for Thursday at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, according to two defense officials and a U.S. official.
The show, which was in celebration of Pride Month, was approved by Air Force leaders, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told the Air Force it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show should be canceled or moved off base.
Drag shows and events on military bases have become a politically contentious issue in recent months, with conservative politicians and pundits arguing the military should not be spending taxpayer money on them.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 29, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., angrily questioned Austin and Milley about drag queen story hours on bases around the world, including in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.
“Drag queen story hours is not something that the department funds,” Austin told the committee.
Milley chimed in, asking to see the flyers for the events Gaetz was referring to and saying he was not aware of such events and does not support their being held on military bases.
“I’d like to take a look at those, because I don’t agree with those,” Milley said.
When Milley was informed about the event this week, he was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base, a U.S. official and a defense official said.
“Consistent with Secretary Austin’s congressional testimony, the Air Force will not host drag events at its installations or facilities. Commanders have been directed to either cancel or relocate these events to an off-base location,” an Air Force official said when asked about the Nellis event.
“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. 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 not a suitable use of DOD resources,” deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement.
The Nellis drag show was scheduled for Thursday, but the base commander was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base, the officials said.
“I can confirm the Nellis commander informed the private organization that the drag event would have to be canceled or relocated to an off-base location,” a source familiar with the matter said.
Nellis AFB hosted a Pride Month drag show in June 2021, named “Drag-u-Nellis.” A spokesperson for the base said in a statement that it was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity.
On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter about the issue to Austin and Milley, detailing six other cases of drag shows or events on bases or approved by the U.S. military. Gaetz asked the Pentagon leaders to provide information about the events and to say whether any punitive action has or will be taken against anyone who used taxpayer money on them.