US Navy drag queen hits back at conservative 'haters'

Petty officer Joshua Kelley performs in drag as Harpy Daniels

A US Navy drag queen who lead an initiative to attract diverse recruits to the service has hit back at his critics, including the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden.

Joshua Kelley, a second-class petty officer who performs in drag as Harpy Daniels, was chosen to be one of the Navy's Digital Ambassadors to diversify its pool of candidates amidst a recruitment crisis.

Posting videos on TikTok in which he alternates between his navy uniform and full drag, he highlighted his experience performing as Harpy and becoming an "advocate" for Navy recruits who "were oppressed for years in the service."

"I identify as non-binary and this has been an unbelievable experience since I've joined the Navy," he said.

"From joining to 2016 and being able to share my drag experience on my off time with my fellow sailors has been a blessing. This experience has brought me so much strength, courage and ambition to continue being an advocate and representation of queer sailors!"

But the initiative drew fierce criticism including from Fox News host Megyn Kelly and 14 Republican senators who sent a letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro asking if the service endorsed drag shows.

"Where does the Navy draw the line on promotion of the personal activities of its influencers?," they wrote. "Would the Navy enlist burlesque or exotic dancers to reach possible recruits?

"We understand the need to reach broadly across the eligible population to improve recruitingoutcomes, but we question promotion of social media influencers who post behaviours oractivities many Americans deem inappropriate."

The scheme was also criticised by retired Navy SEAL Rob O'Neill, who claimed to have killed Osama bin Laden, who said the Navy needs to be "ferocious, not fabulous".

'This is not going to boost recruitment, this is going to do the opposite,' said O'Neill when asked if he thought the Navy's digital ambassador scheme would be effective.

"We don't join the military to express ourselves," he said. "All we have in common is that we're all afraid that we get our heads shaved, then we're part of a team, and our job as a military is alliance, solidarity, forward defence and deterrence.

"And a deterrent is a way you avoid conflict by projecting strength."

Kelley subsequently posted a video on TikTok stating: "The Navy is comprised of a diverse group of people, including non-binary, trans and queer people! No Haters can stop us.

"Haters only hate when you are winning. LGBTQ+ people never could serve open because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Now that we can, you can see who the homophobic and transphobic people are."

A spokesperson for the Navy said the initiative had been launched because it is facing the "most challenging recruiting environment since the start of the all-volunteer force".

A survey from the Ronald Reagan Institute found that only 13% of 18- to 29-year-olds are "highly willing" to join the military while 25% are "somewhat willing" and 26% are "not willing at all."