(NewsNation) — The U.S. Navy has received harsh criticism after appointing an active-duty drag queen to be a “digital ambassador” in a new effort to attract recruits as it is not expected to meet recruiting goals this year.
The military branch designated Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley as the first of five Navy Digital Ambassadors in a pilot program that ran from October to March, according to the New York Post.
Kelley, whose stage name is Harpy Daniels and who identifies as non-binary, joined the Navy in 2016 and said their experience as a sailor 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,” Kelley said in an Instagram post.
However, this move by the Navy has received major backlash, some even comparing it to Bud Light’s advertisement partnership with TikTok creator Dylan Mulvaney.
Former Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill, who was part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden, tweeted: “Alright, the U.S. Navy is now using an enlisted sailor Drag Queen as a recruiter. Im done. China is going to destroy us. YOU GOT THIS NAVY. I cant believe I fought for this bullshit.”
These responses come at a time when trans issues, such as gender-affirming care. are being debated across the country. According to a website that tracks such legislation, there were 492 anti-trans bills introduced across the country so far in 2023, with 422 labeled as “active.”
Much of that legislation specifically targets gender-affirming care for minors. Trans youth face much higher rates of suicide than their cisgender peers, and research has shown access to gender-affirming care can reduce the risk of suicide by 73%.
The debate around trans issues has become an increasingly partisan one, with a majority of Republicans saying they think the U.S. has gone too far in accepting transgender people, while the majority of Democrats say society hasn’t gone far enough.
Age is also a critical factor, with young adults more likely to support acceptance of trans people.