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Tipsheet

Jim Banks to Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin: What Happened to 'No Drag Shows'?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Our military is experiencing a series of recruitment concerns, and somehow members who identify as "non-binary" and perform drag shows are supposed to help with that. This is not a mere hypothetical, but was just revealed to be the case earlier this week, as Sarah covered. In order to boost recruitment, the U.S. Navy is using a drag queen social media influencer over TikTok, Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley, for its Digital Ambassador program in an attempt to boost recruitment. 

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Not only does such a discovery bring up countless concerns, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had testified to the contrary. During a U.S. House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 29, 2023, the secretary repeatedly emphasized that "drag shows are not something that the Department of Defense supports or funds." Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) quickly took notice of the contradiction, and on Thursday sent the secretary a letter demanding answers.

Banks' letter makes reference to comments from a Navy spokesperson, who defended the service member in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF).

As is mentioned in a DCNF report:

...The Digital Ambassador initiative in which Kelley participated ran from October 2022 to March 2023 and was “designed to explore the digital environment to reach a wide range of potential candidates,” the Navy spokesperson said.

The Digital Ambassador initiative concluded in April, and the Navy is now evaluating the program to consider what form it will take in the future, the spokesperson told the DCNF.

“The Navy did not compensate YN2 Kelley or any others for being Navy Digital Ambassadors,” the spokesperson said. Five active duty personnel participated, and no promotional or recruiting materials exist.

Kelley said he was “hand selected as one of four Navy Digital Ambassadors” in a social media post.

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While this one part of the woke recruitment tool has come to an end, it may yet still continue once more. Further, the Navy still uses other forms of woke recruitment, as is also mentioned in the DCNF report:

The Navy committed to recruit and retain soldiers through fostering an inclusive culture and ensuring personnel feel “included and connected to mission and leaders at all levels,” according to the latest DEI policy updates. A 2020 pamphlet on Inclusion and Diversity goals included the objective to develop “strategies using data to understand and eliminate barriers and ensure outreach to all segments of society.”

Seeking answers by May 12, Banks' list of nine questions began by trying to get to the heart of whether or not Sec. Austin was honest in his testimony. "Were you aware of the Navy’s Digital Ambassador program when you testified that 'the Department of Defense does not support drag shows?,'" the first question asks. 

Banks also goes on to ask why Kelley was appointed as the first ambassador, "[g]iven his relatively small digital following compared to potential alternatives." He also wants to know "Who was the highest-ranking officer or civilian official to approve the appointment of Navy Digital Ambassadors?"

In particularly biting questions, Banks inquires more about the use of TikTok "Do you believe that TikTok videos of sailors dressed in and performing in drag is the best use of the Navy’s recruitment efforts?" one question reads, and "Do you believe that TikTok videos of sailors dressed in and performing in drag ultimately increases or decreases the Navy’s overall recruitment?" Highlighting a contrast with foreign adversies, another question asks "Do any of our foreign adversaries like China or Russia use similar recruitment techniques that promote drag shows?"

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Banks' questions also seek to get to the technical side of things, such as "How many man-hours have been dedicated to the Navy Digital Ambassador program since its creation?," "What is the annual budget for the Navy Digital Ambassador program?," and "What other service members were appointed Navy Digital Ambassadors?"

"Secretary Austin claimed that the Biden DoD does not support drag shows. If he was testifying honestly then he has an obligation to discipline the officials who decided that sexually explicit content should be featured in the Navy’s Digital Ambassador program," Banks is quoted as saying in a press release about the letter. "There’s no doubt that Biden appointees are behind the Pentagon’s hard-left turn and Republicans on the Armed Services Committee will continue to question Secretary Austin about the divisive and woke insanity that’s helped drive recruitment to a historic low."

Banks has, for years, been calling out the Department of Defense's (DoD) for embracing far-left, woke policies. He called out  Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, in June 2021 for a "professional reading program" reading list sent out that included Ibram X. Kendi’s "How to Be an Antiracist." More recently, in February, Banks was joined by Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth about recruitment. 

"Wokeness at the DoD has harmed recruitment, retention and morale, wasted service members’ time and taxpayer’s dollars, and undermined the apolitical character of the military which is a major threat to democracy and the American way of life," Banks is quoted as saying in a press release about the letter. "I’ll ensure the Military Personnel Subcommittee prioritizes rooting out wokeness."

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A press release from the Banks about this letter to Sec. Austin also warns that the "embrace of far-left politics... has damaged the military’s image and contributed to the DoD’s historic recruiting shortfall." 

Banks is not the only member of Congress to be asking questions about Yeoman Kelley. As Spencer covered, Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC) led 14 of his fellow senators in a Wednesday letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro looking for an explanation, including as to Kelley's use of TikTok, especially since it is "a banned app."

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