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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.