[Editor’s note: this story was update late Friday with the Air Force’s response.]
Ramstein Air Base in Germany is reworking its Pride Month festivities after critics, including a Republican senator, complained that a drag queen was picked to read to children.
Ramstein, the largest American air base in Germany and headquarters of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, was slated to host local drag queen Stacey Teed at a 30-minute story time event for kids at an on-base library, according to a since-deleted Facebook event.
“Be sure to wear your brightest and most colorful outfits!” the post read.
But the event created a furor. Chief among its opponents was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who confirmed the Air Force had canceled “Drag Queen Story Time” the same week he wrote to Secretary Frank Kendall demanding the service “immediately cancel this politically divisive event, and take appropriate disciplinary action against all involved in allowing this gross abuse of taxpayer funding to place children in a sexualized environment.”
Rubio also asked Kendall how many events “involving drag queens spending time around children” have been held on American military installations around the world, and what resources have been used to hold them.
“Decisions over children and their bodies should be left to moms and dads serving our nation,” Rubio wrote Thursday. “The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library.”
His opposition comes amid a spike in baseless accusations of LGBTQ people “grooming” or befriending children with the intent to sexually abuse them.
“It’s story time, not RuPaul’s Drag Race,” said Natalie Ricketts, a member of the Ramstein community who created a Change.org petition to reinstate the events. “Stacey Teed isn’t a sexualized name, nor would they wear the same clothes [to the reading that] they would for a show.”
According to Ramstein officials, the planned event was not properly vetted.
“An advertisement was posted to the base library social media page before the event had completed Ramstein’s established processes for special observance coordination and approval,” said Lt. Col. Will Powell, chief of public affairs for the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein. “The advertisement has been removed and the event will not take place.
“Ramstein leaders strive to foster a culture based on inclusion where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their political views, color of their skin or sexual orientation,” he said. “The base’s established processes will ensure all future special observance events are properly reviewed and approved prior to advertisement.
“Ramstein leaders continue to support LGBTQ+ related events, and coordinators are currently in the process of planning other Pride events for June. More details will be made available once final decisions have been made.”
Drag is the centuries-long practice of dressing in exaggerated makeup and clothing of the opposite sex, most commonly used in theater and other stage performances. It’s often on display during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month events, held worldwide each June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York that served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement. Pride Month also celebrates the community’s contributions and remembers those killed in hate crimes or by HIV/AIDS.
Military organizations have started hosting Pride events in the decade since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning openly gay service members ended.
This year, Ricketts wrote in the petition, the 86th Mission Support Group commander canceled all Pride events unless they are rebranded without drag queens.
“The reason for this is because the [public affairs chief] received a lot of angry emails from ‘taxpaying Americans’ … most of which aren’t stationed here,” said Ricketts, whose public LinkedIn profile shows she served as an active duty geospatial intelligence analyst before joining the Air Force Reserve.
“Per the [86th Airlift] Wing … ‘You can do the event but remove the drag queen [and] have someone ‘normal’ reading the stories,’” said Ricketts.
According to the Change.org petition, which had gathered more than 140 digital signatures as of Friday afternoon, the library will only hold Pride story time if a drag queen participates.
Objections centered on the library gathering but allegedly led to a blanket ban from local leadership on any drag-related event. Pride was slated to kick off next week with a karaoke event run by drag queens at the base’s enlisted club, Ricketts said.
Ricketts disputed the idea that the event would involve anything untoward.
The “Monarchy of RoyalTea,” a drag group in the Kaiserslautern military community that holds performances and events like holiday drag brunches, is losing out on funds it would have received for working at Pride Month activities, she said. Most of the drag queens are enlisted members.
A note anonymously posted to the popular Facebook page “Air Force amn/nco/snco”, which airs airmen’s questions and gripes and shares news articles, said those involved with Ramstein Pride are working with the Air Force’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Initiative Team; the Modern Military Association of America, an advocacy group for LGBTQ service members; and 86th Force Support Squadron on a solution.
“We are deeply disappointed that discrimination like this continues to be tolerated,” the note said.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.