Celebrities enlist followers in lobbying Congress on 'Don't ask, don't tell' vote

Celebrities have emerged as an unexpected force in the push to repeal the military's longstanding "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy toward gays serving openly in the miliary, which the Senate will vote on Tuesday attached to the defense reauthorization bill.

No one has drawn more attention to the debate than the edgy entertainer Lady Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta, who has used social media to directly correspond with lawmakers, share videos encouraging repeal, and launch a phone-in campaign from constituents.

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Lady Gaga is going to Maine with veterans on Monday as part of a grass-roots push to convince Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to help break Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) attempts to filibuster the 2011 defense authorization bill. Lady Gaga announced the event over Twitter.

Last week, in a move that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded directly to Lady Gaga over Twitter, informing her (and her 6 million-plus followers) of this Tuesday's planned vote. Reid wrote to the singer's Twitter handle, @ladygaga, "There is a vote on #DADT next week. Anyone qualified to serve this country should be allowed to do so." He also added a link to his campaign's website.  

Gaga also has communicated directly with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Twitter. After seeing a video on YouTube Friday wherein Gaga tried to reach Gillibrand by phone (her voicemail box was full), Gillibrand reached out to Gaga on Twitter, writing, "Thx for calling. I couldn't agree more and am helping lead the fight to repeal DADT. Do you have a moment to talk later today?" It is unclear whether Gaga and Gillibrand have spoken personally about the issue.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has also waded into the debate during the lead-up to Tuesday's vote. Simmons wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post urging the Senate to repeal the longstanding policy, calling it a "broken law" and a "destructive form of torture." 

This isn't the first time celebrities have attempted to influence politics, either with vocal activism or with their thick wallets. But the personal back-and-forth communications and the huge numbers speak to Lady Gaga's status as one of the country's most popular entertainers. As of Sunday morning, more than 1.2 million people had viewed a seven-minute video Gaga recorded in which she appeals directly to GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), James Inhofe (Okla.), and Jeff Sessions (Ala.). 

Another 65,000 people have watched a YouTube video in which two young women -- with a Lady Gaga poster in the background -- in Colorado call Sen. Michael Bennet's (D-Colo.) office in Washington and leave a voicemail on "Don't ask, don't tell."

The outcome of Tuesday's vote is still uncertain, and GOP senators have threatened to filibuster the huge defense spending bill if DADT repeal is included in it. 

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a pro-repeal advocacy group, told NPR on Saturday, "The vote will be close, and the reality is that no one knows with any certainty — including Reid and McConnell — how this is going to turn out."

Roxana Tiron contributed to this report

This story was updated at 7:45 p.m.