Does the Navy endorse drag shows? Tik Tok video has lawmakers demanding answers 

US Navy By Glynnis Jones Shutterstock Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock.

The Navy’s decision to enlist a TikTok drag queen influencer as a digital ambassador to entice people to join the United States armed forces has some lawmakers and others questioning the Navy’s thinking.

Joshua Kelley, a drag queen who uses the stage name Harpy Daniels, participated in a digital ambassador pilot initiative run by the Navy from October 2022 through March 2023. 

Kelley, who is a sailor in the Navy, posted a series of TikTok videos during that time period wearing either a Navy uniform, a drag outfit, or sometimes switching between the two within the same video. The videos often discuss topics related to military service and being a drag queen. 

A group of 14 Republican senators sent a letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro that asked questions about the appropriateness of the content and specifically about the use of TikTok, which has raised national security concerns in recent years. 

“We understand the need to reach broadly across the eligible population to improve recruiting outcomes, but we question promotion of social media influencers who post behaviors or activities many Americans deem inappropriate,” the letter read. 

The lawmakers noted that the Navy’s 2019 social media handbook urged sailors to “assume any content they post may affect their personal careers and the reputation of the Navy more broadly” and asked whether the Navy “endorses the personal posts of its influencers.” 

“Does the Navy endorse drag shows?” the lawmakers asked. 

“Where does the Navy draw the line on promotion of the personal activities of its influencers? Would the Navy enlist burlesque or exotic dancers to reach possible recruits? Such activity is not appropriate for promotion in a professional workplace or the United States military.”

The senators asked the Navy to respond to the series of questions by May 24. They asked what the current status of the Digital Ambassador Pilot Program is and whether the Navy intends to keep using it. They also requested data related to the impact of the program, how much funding was spent on the program, and whether the influencers received money or incentives.

Because TikTok is banned on Department of Defense devices, the senators asked whether such apps were used to make the content and whether the Navy encourages its ambassadors to use TikTok on their personal devices. They further asked the Navy whether the ambassadors had been informed of the risks inherent to using TikTok on their personal devices. 

“As you know, Congress passed the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, which President Biden signed into law on December 29, 2022,” the letter read. “This is in response to legitimate concerns that China could use its legal and regulatory powers to obtain private user data or to push misinformation or narratives favoring the Chinese Communist Party.”

William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, also criticized the Navy’s decision to turn to drag queens for recruitment purposes. 

“We all know why the Army, Navy, and Air Force missed their recruitment goals by the thousands this year [but] the Marines held steady,” Donohue said in a letter to Gen. Mark Milley. 

“It’s because these branches have adopted the policies of the far-left, the woke brand of politics,” Donohue continued. “As such, they have gone off the rails, alienating millions of Americans. If someone sought to deliberately sabotage the armed forces, he could not do a better job.” 

Donohue accused the leadership of trying to “sexually engineer our troops” and said it is “insulting and offensive” to “express shock that recruitment numbers are down when drag queens are used as model recruiters” and questioned whether the leaders “think real men buy into this insanity.” 

“Catholics are overrepresented among those in uniform,” Donohue noted. “As president of the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, and as an Air Force veteran, I am outraged that this morally debased campaign is taken place.” 

Kelley responded to the criticism by posting another TikTok video that switched between him wearing his Navy uniform and then dancing in drag. 

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He wrote in the video that “haters only hate when you are winning” and “now that [LGBTQ+ people can openly serve], you see who the homophobic and the transphobic people are.”

The Navy expects that it will be short of its recruitment goals by about 6,000 sailors in the current fiscal year.

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