(LAS VEGAS) — The Pentagon informed Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base that a previously approved drag show slated to take place on the base on the first day of Pride Month could not take place because it was not in line with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent comments, according to two defense officials.
The drag performance would have been held at the Officer’s Club at southern Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base on Thursday, June 1, and had been approved by base commanders, just as it had been over the previous two years.
Base legal officers and commanders had determined that the event was in line with DOD policy and no department funding would be used for the event, according to the official who spoke to ABC News.
The decision on hosting such shows is typically left in the hands of local commanders who follow guidance from military attorneys, but Nellis officials were told earlier his week by the Defense Department that Thursday’s event was not consistent with Austin’s recent comments to Congress and that it should be canceled or relocated off base, a defense official told ABC News.
“Consistent with Secretary Austin’s congressional testimony, the Air Force will not host drag events at its installations or facilities,” said Ann Stefanek, a U.S. Air Force spokesperson. “Commanders have been directed to either cancel or relocate these events to an off-base location.”
Military services were informed this week of the clarified guidance that only applies to drag shows held on military bases, another defense official confirmed.
Other LGTBQ+ events scheduled to take place at military bases during Pride Month will not be impacted by the new directive.
“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,” Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, said in a statement.
“As Secretary Austin has said, the DOD will not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities,” said Singh. “Hosting these types of events in federally funded facilities is inconsistent with regulations regarding the use of DoD resources.”
Singh explained this is not a change in department policy.
“The Secretary has said DoD will not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities, consistent with long-standing policy,” she said.
“We are proud to serve alongside any and every young American who takes the oath that puts their life on the line in defense of our country,” she added. “Service members and their families are often involved in a host of special interest activities related to their personal hobbies, beliefs, and backgrounds.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, blasted the reversal as “sid[ing] with the politics of fear and discrimination peddled by extreme members of Congress.”
“For decades, our community has fought for our right to exist without shame or exception, yet [Austin’s] decision to ban an event that has happened in prior years reinforces false tropes about LGBTQ+ culture. At a time when we are under attack, the Pentagon is ceding to extremist forces focused on taking away our rights — leaders responsible for national defense ought to do better. Our people deserve better, the United States military deserves better, and all Americans deserve better,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said.
In late March, both Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed reservations about DOD facilities hosting drag shows when questioned about the matter by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
“Drag shows are not something that the Department of Defense supports or funds,” Austin said in response to a question from Gaetz.
Milley said he was unaware of the congressman’s reference to drag shows taking place at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Nellis and asked for more information “because I’d like to take a look at those myself actually — take a look and find out what actually is going on there.”
“I’d like to take a look at those because I don’t agree with those,” he said. “I think those things shouldn’t be happening.”
Gaetz applauded the cancelation of the planned Nellis drag show.
“HUGE VICTORY: The Department of Defense has CANCELED a scheduled “child-friendly” drag show after I demanded answers from @SecDef Austin and General Milley! Drag shows should not be taking place on military installations with taxpayer dollars PERIOD!” he tweeted Wednesday night.
Austin issued a statement Thursday celebrating the start of Pride Month and the contributions of LGBTQ+ service members.
“As Secretary of Defense, I remain dedicated to making sure that our LGBTQ+ personnel across the Joint Force can continue to serve the country that we all love with dignity and pride—this month and every other one. We thank you for your service—and we thank your spouses and your families, whose support makes your service possible,” said Austin.
ABC News’ Nate Luna contributed to this report.
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