Navy Scraps Controversial Digital Recruiting Program Featuring Drag Queen

The U.S. Navy’s recent decision to halt its Digital Ambassador Pilot Program, which featured an enlisted drag queen known as Harpy Daniels, has many Americans breathing a sigh of relief, especially as the military struggles to meet recruiting goals.

Initially aimed at “exploring the digital environment to reach a wide range of potential candidates,” according to Erik Raven, undersecretary of the Navy, the program stirred up considerable controversy. In a September 12 letter to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Raven confirmed that the program “will not be continued,” emphasizing that future digital efforts will maintain a “distinction between Sailors’ official activities and their personal lives.”

This course correction comes as the Navy faces a bleak outlook for its 2023 fiscal year recruiting goals. Acting Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti recently stated the Navy is projected to miss these targets by approximately 7,000 sailors. This shortfall isn’t unique to the Navy; the U.S. Army and Coast Guard are also expected to fall short of their respective recruiting objectives.

The program initially drew scrutiny after featuring Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley, an active-duty drag queen who goes by the stage name Harpy Daniels and identifies as non-binary. The decision to embrace Daniels drew backlash from the public and many military veterans who questioned the appropriateness of featuring such a figure in an official capacity aimed at recruiting new sailors.

Sen. Tuberville had previously taken issue with this approach, pressing the Navy on the identities of those funding and promoting the program. Tuberville sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and previously sent a letter demanding information on this unconventional recruiting strategy.

Additionally, the Alabama senator expressed concerns over using TikTok, a platform banned on government-issued devices by the Pentagon by Navy personnel. In response, Raven clarified that the Navy did not issue government devices for TikTok use and would “continue to communicate” to its members the “national security risks associated with their use of TikTok on personal devices.”

The public response to the Navy’s program on social media was a mixture of confusion and outrage. Many questioned the relevance of featuring a drag queen in a program aimed at enticing young Americans to join a military branch traditionally rooted in values of discipline, service, and sacrifice.

Given the current climate of military recruitment falling critically below targets, a recalibration of strategies is overdue. The discontinuation of the Digital Ambassador Pilot Program underscores the need for more effective methods to engage potential enlistees. In a time when national security risks are constantly evolving, military recruitment must focus on attracting individuals genuinely interested in serving their country rather than becoming a theater for social experiments.