May 22, 2018
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In Portland, Gaga calls for end to ‘don’t ask’ policy

By Dan MacLeod Special to the BDN, Special to the BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Lady Gaga proposed a law to replace “don’t ask, don’t tell” at a rally in Deering Oaks Park on Monday afternoon.

“Our new law is called, ‘If you don’t like it, go home,’ she told the crowd of roughly 3,000 people, who roared with approval.

The pop music sensation’s impassioned speech was directed at Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, as well as Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who are seen as on the fence regarding the repeal of the policy that makes it legal for gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces so long as they don’t disclose their sexual preference.

Gaga, whose given name is Stefani Germanotta, said she wrote her own speech. She called it “The Prime Rib of America,” based on the idea that equality is like prime rib, and gay people in the military “don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.”

The rally was organized by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national group that advocates for the repeal of the 1993 law.

Held on a clear, sunny day in Portland’s main park, the rally drew national media and a colorful crowd of supporters. Former members of the military who said they were discharged for being gay spoke at the event, along with 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree and Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones.

“I’m here because they inspire me,” Gaga said of the servicepeople who spoke before her. “I’m here because I believe in them. I’m here because ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is wrong. It’s unjust and fundamentally against all that we stand for as Americans.”

Gaga mocked the oath of enlistment, holding up her right hand, reciting it and adding “unless there’s a gay soldier in my unit.”

She said the law punishes the wrong people. Homophobic soldiers should be kicked out, not homosexuals, she said.

“McCain is using homophobia as a defense,” she said of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is expected to filibuster the vote scheduled for 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

“Doesn’t it seem — based on the Constitution — that we are penalizing the wrong soldiers?” she asked. “Doesn’t it seem to you like we should send home the prejudiced — the straight soldier who hates the gay soldier? The straight soldier whose performance in the military is affected because he is homophobic, the straight soldier who has prejudice in his heart?”

Pingree said that with the country fighting two wars in the Middle East, the military can’t afford to turn away dedicated, willing servicemen and women.

“The last thing we should be doing is saying no matter how brave, dedicated or patriotic, if you’re gay, we don’t want you to wear the uniform of the United States,” Pingree said.

Gaga, one of the world’s biggest pop stars who is known as much for wearing dresses made of meat as she is for her multimillion-selling records, announced her visit Sunday on Twitter.

“Meet me in Portland, Maine 2moro, 9/20 to help repeal #DADT. I’m holding a Rally + speaking live in Deering Oaks Park,” Gaga announced Sunday in her Tweet. With 6,392,589 followers, she is most followed person on the social media service.

News of her impending arrival rippled throughout the Internet and the city of Portland scrambled on Sun-day to set up for her arrival, which required police security and a permit for a rally. City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said everything went together smoothly and there were no incidents.

Norma Harrison of Gorham and Alex Dutton of Cape Elizabeth, both 17, sported shirts they made Monday that read “Gaga’s little monster,” referring to the artist’s nickname for her fans.

“I completely support” the appeal, Harrison said. “I think it should be the soldier’s own discretion to share how they feel about exposing their sexual preference.”

Trish Hayes, 27, of Portland, who held a sign that read “Gaga helps, but have you called?” said she thought a lot of people turned up to the rally just to see the celebrity.

“It’s not about Gaga, it’s about equality,” she said. “There’s people who want to fight for the country. You wouldn’t ask someone to hide their ethnicity, so why their sexual preference?”

She made the 13-hour trip to Portland from Raleigh, N.C., where she performed last night,according to Trevor Thomas, spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Her black tour bus pulled up to the event around 5:15 to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey as the crowd shouted, “This law sucks.”

Throngs of teenage girls frantically scrambled to get closer to the stage as she stepped off the bus and walked between the barricades the pop star made her way through the crowd.

Thomas said Gaga became interested in helping repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” after a concert in Washington, D.C., at a private meeting with former service members who had been discharged because they were openly gay.

“She has been a supporter of the repeal and gay rights,” he said. “She wanted to do something to help the cause in a genuine and strategic way.”

The organization is trying to pressure Snowe and Collins to vote to allow a repeal of the policy.

“We hope by being in their [Snowe and Collins’] backyard that they can hear us today,” Thomas said before the event.

A proposal to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is attached to the defense authorization bill, which Democrats will try to bring to a vote this week.

Democrats need 60 votes on Tuesday to cut off debate and proceed to the bill, again putting Snowe and Collins in the role of casting what could be deciding votes in the Senate, said Thomas.

Collins previously voted for a provision to repeal the “don’t ask” policy in the Armed Services Committee, but she wants “a full and open debate” on the defense authorization bill as well as the ability for Republicans to offer amendments, said her spokesman, Kevin Kelley.

Snowe has not decided how she’ll vote on Tuesday, a spokesman said Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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