Navy Recruiting Head Doubles Down On ‘Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion’ Amid Drag Queen Uproar, Email Shows

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • The Navy’s head of recruiting doubled down on the service’s support for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) amid uproar over the Navy’s platforming of a drag queen as a “digital ambassador,” according to an email.
  • “If recruits ask, our Navy is an organization that recognizes the contributions of people from all walks of life, and values and supports diversity, equity, and inclusion,” head of Navy Recruiting Command Rear Adm. Lex Walker said.
  • The ambassador program drew criticism from Republican lawmakers for allegedly reflecting ill on the Navy and deepening the recruiting crisis.

The head of the Navy’s recruiting branch said in an email to recruiters that the service recognizes sailors from all backgrounds and walks of life amid a flurry of criticism of the Navy for evidently promoting a drag queen amid severe recruiting challenges.

In an email addressed to “Recruiting Nation,” head of Navy Recruiting Command Rear Adm. Lex Walker thanked recipients for helping the Navy mitigate its recruiting shortfall — down to an estimated gap of 6,000 sailors from 12,000, the email, originally shared on the TRMLX blog and confirmed by the Daily Caller News Foundation, shows. He then told recruiters to double down on the Navy’s support for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) if they receive any inquiries about Harpy Daniels, the enlisted sailor and drag queen the Navy tapped to become its first “digital ambassador.”

“Some of you may have seen one of the many articles on ‘Harpy Daniels,’ an enlisted sailor who participates in drag shows,” Walker wrote, posting links to a story from 2018 on Daniels’ drag performances on board the USS Ronald Reagan.

Harpy Daniels, whose real name is Joshua Kelley and who is a Yeoman 2nd class, was one of five enlisted sailors who participated in a pilot initiative aimed at expanding the Navy’s digital reach. The DCNF was the first to report on Kelley’s engagement with the “Navy Digital Ambassador program,” which wrapped up in March, according to a spokesperson.

“If recruits ask, our Navy is an organization that recognizes the contributions of people from all walks of life, and values and supports diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Walker said, according to the email. (RELATED: ‘Everybody’s Guessing’: Pentagon Tells Congress US Needs To Be Ready For Chinese Invasion Of Taiwan Any Moment)

Dave Benham, Navy Recruiting Command’s public affairs director, confirmed the email’s authenticity to the DCNF.

Kelley’s involvement in the ambassador program drew the ire of conservative politicians who accused the Navy of debasing the service and endorsing engagement on a Chinese-owned social media platform deemed a national security risk.

Maybe the Navy should talk to Bud Light marketing and exchange notes about what NOT to do,” Republican Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL, wrote on social media in response to an article claiming the Navy platformed Kelley as a drag queen to boost sagging recruitment.

Walker clarified that “‘Harpy Daniels’ is not part of CNRC (Commander, Navy Recruiting Command) or VMLY&R’s Marketing and Advertising campaign,” Walker said in the email. VMLY&R is a private advertising agency that counts the U.S. Navy as a client.

Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, clarified at a briefing Thursday that the program was a “pilot outreach effort” and “not a recruiting effort.”

@harpydaniels Haters only Hate when you are winning. LGBTQ+ People never could serve open because of DADT. Now that we can, you can see who the Homphobic and Transphobic people are. #fyp #miltok #military #lgbt #dragtok #grahamallen ♬ original sound – jaredleto

Walker informed recipients that CHINFO, the Navy headquarters’ public affairs office, would handle all media requests pertaining to Harpy Daniels.

“Thank you as always for your tireless efforts during this year that has seen us slash our projected miss from over 12,000 to current projection of 6,000 below goal,” Walker wrote, including his pronouns (he/him) in his signature in rainbow colors. “Let’s continue to work toward reducing that number even further.”

Navy leaders predicted in April the service could fall about 6,000 recruits short of its goal for 2023 after draining its pool of delayed-entry applicants to meet recruiting targets the year before, Military Times reported.

“We are incredibly proud of those who decide to serve, and that’s every young American who decides to serve and to take the oath, to put their (life) on the line in defense of our country,” Singh said.

A Navy spokesperson would not provide additional detail about the Digital Ambassador program.

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