FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—Drag performances took place on board the USS Ronald Reagan under the command of a Navy captain whose promotion to rear admiral is currently being blocked by Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville.
Capt. Michael Donnelly served as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan from April 2016 to September 2018. During that time period, Yeoman 2rd Class Joshua Kelley was performing as a drag queen at Morale, Welfare, and Recreation department-sanctioned events on the carrier under the drag name “Harpy Daniels.”
As commander of the USS Ronald Reagan, Donnelly would have been aware of, and responsible for, that activity, according to William Thibeau, director of The American Military Project at The Claremont Institute.
Donnelly declined to comment for this article through the U.S. Navy.
“Every military officer takes command of units large and small with the understanding they are responsible for everything that does and does not happen under their command,” Thibeau explained. “It’s the basic truth of military leadership, whether you command an infantry company or an aircraft carrier.”
“The USS Ronald Reagan drag shows of 2017 and 2018 were not random acts of entertainment for sailors, but were sanctioned Navy programs under the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department of the ship,” he noted. “As commander of the ship, Captain Donnelly would have been ultimately responsible for this program.”
Thibeau also noted that large media outlets, such as NBC and the Military Times, had covered the drag shows during Donnelly’s tour—significant press attention that “would have been a standard reporting requirement directly to Captain Donnelly at the time.”
“My biggest performances here are the lip-sync competitions we hold to build up morale,” Kelley said in a August 2018 interview with NBC News.
“I have many LGBT friends here, and if you can stand at attention properly and speak with proper etiquette, that’s what it comes down to in the Navy,” Kelley added. “No one tells me I’m too feminine. I’ve not once had a bad experience as a gay man in the military.”
Donnelly is one of a slew of generals and other military officers up for promotions—promotions that Tuberville has vowed to block until the the Defense Department rescinds its Feb. 16 policy providing three weeks of paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for military personnel and dependents who are seeking an abortion.
That policy is one of a number of taxpayer-funded initiatives that are unrelated to the military’s mission of protecting the United States, according to Tuberville. In an early May letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael M. Gilday, Tuberville demanded the names of the officers responsible for funding and for promoting drag queen performances.
“Who was the Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) at the time of these performances?” the Alabama lawmaker wrote. “As I stated after your evasive answer to my question regarding the self-centered focus of these videos, my issue is not the sailors’ sexual orientation. The Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment are a great recruitment tool; an emphasis on race, sexuality, gender are not.”
Similarly, several House Republicans sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in early May calling on him to “put an end to any drag shows and any ‘drag queen influencers’ performing in our military.”
“We’re at a time where America’s youth has very little desire to serve and protect our nation,” Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., told Fox News at the time. “The Navy’s decision to use drag queens as a recruitment tool is outrageous and a disgrace to those who have previously served.”
“We should be focused on deterring China and other adversaries, not drag shows, which do nothing to enhance our deterrence and warfighting capabilities,” the lawmakers wrote.
In a press release-type interview written by MC3 Tyler John—who also appears to have photographed Kelley’s performances—and posted on the Navy’s website, Kelley says that “RuPaul’s Drag Race inspired me to start doing drag when I was 16 years old.”
“I never knew a man could embrace his femininity in a creative and entertaining way like that, and I knew it’s what I wanted to do,” Kelley added.
“Doing drag allows me to embrace my feminine side and allows me to bring my diversity and creativity out,” Kelley further explained. “When I put on a face, it’s a face of art and creativity, not just a face of makeup. To hear people cheer, laugh, or cry, or even join in with you during a performance is an absolute thrill. The best thing about it is that it allows me to inspire others by just being who I am today.”
According to John, competing in drag competitions has helped Kelley throughout his career in the Navy.
“Drag is just one of many diverse platforms represented throughout the military,” John writes. “We are all sailors, but that is not everything that defines us. Sailors have diverse goals, inspirations and experiences they can draw from in their past, present and desired future to help them during their career. For Kelley, that inspiration is drag.”
Kelley responded to criticism on Twitter, specifically to commentator Graham Allen’s assertion: “This is not the same military I served under … Our enemies LAUGH at us.”
“Actually it was!” the drag performer said. “The difference was there was no talk or media about it most likely fear of being kicked out or worse. History of drag runs deep in the service. Google is free. Just tell us your homophobic and move on.”
Rob Bluey contributed to this report.
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