September 21, 2010

Lady Gaga urges Maine senators: Tell military to be fair

Thousands hear singer demand end to anti-homosexual policy.

By REBEKAH METZLER MaineToday Media State House Writer

PORTLAND — One of the world's biggest pop stars came to Portland on Monday for a rally to encourage U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to vote to repeal the military policy that requires gays and lesbians to hide their homosexuality, prohibits recruiters from asking about sexual orientation and calls for openly gay members of the military to be discharged.

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Lady Gaga gives the peace sign as she walks from her bus to the stage at Deering Oaks in Portland on Monday to speak to the crowd during a rally supporting repeal of military rules against gay and lesbian service members.

Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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I am here because ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is wrong. It’s unjust, and fundamentally it is against all that we stand for as Americans.”

Tim Greenway

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Lady Gaga, 24, was joined by three such ex-servicemembers on stage at Deering Oaks as she gave a passionate and focused 15-minute speech condemning the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which is scheduled for a Senate vote today as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

"There are amazing heroes here today, whose stories are more powerful than any story I could tell, any fight I've ever fought and any song that I could sell," she said. "I'm here because they inspire me. I'm here because I believe in them. I am here because 'don't ask, don't tell' is wrong. It's unjust, and fundamentally it is against all that we stand for as Americans."

About 2,500 people gathered for the late-afternoon rally with the Grammy Award-winning artist. The event was organized by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

"My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. I am an American citizen," she said. "To the Senate, to Americans, to Sen. Olympia Snowe, Sen. Susan Collins, both from Maine, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts: Equality is the prime rib of America. Equality is the prime rib of what we stand for as a nation, and I don't get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat that my country has to offer."

It will likely require 60 votes to end the Senate debate today, because Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has threatened to filibuster the vote on the military spending bill.

Snowe and Collins, both Republicans, have yet to decide how they will vote, according to spokesmen. They have said the defense budget deserves full debate, and complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused to let Republicans offer amendments to the bill.

Collins was the only Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee to vote to include the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in the defense budget authorization earlier this year.

The House has passed a similar measure, with support from Maine's two representatives.

"Don't ask, don't tell" has led to the discharge of about 14,000 military members since it was implemented in 1993 under President Bill Clinton.

"I thought this was an all-you-can-eat buffet, this equality stuff. I thought equality meant everyone," Lady Gaga said at Monday's rally. "But apparently, for certain value meals, for certain civil rights, I have to pay extra because I am gay."

Lady Gaga, who has said she is bisexual, asked the crowd, "Doesn't it seem that 'don't ask, don't tell' is backwards?

"The straight soldier who has prejudice in his heart, in the space where the military asks him to hold our core American values, he instead holds and harbors hate – and he gets to stay and fight for our country. He gets to honor it. But we gay soldiers, who harbor no hatred, no prejudice, no phobia, we're sent home," she said.

The pop star, who eschewed her usual outrageous style Monday in favor of a simple black suit and glasses, proposed a new policy to replace "don't ask, don't tell," one that would flip the equation.

"Our new law is called, 'If you don't like it, go home,' " she said. "If you are not committing to perform with excellence as a United States soldier because you don't believe in full equality, go home. If you are not honorable enough to fight without prejudice, go home. If you are not capable of keeping your oath to the armed forces, to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to do the same, unless there's a gay soldier in my unit, then go home."

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