PORTLAND, Maine — It was probably the smallest stage [artist id="3061469"]Lady Gaga[/artist] has set foot on since her East Village days, but it might have also been the most important.
Because Monday (September 20), on that stage — a simple wooden thing with a brick backdrop — in Portland's Deering Oaks Park, she spoke loudly, proudly and passionately against "don't ask, don't tell," the long-standing policy that prevents openly gay men and women from serving in the Armed Forces and a policy that, on Tuesday, may very well be ancient history if the Senate approves the National Defense Authorization Act.
Clearly, the stakes are high, and Gaga, ever the entertainer, was more than up to the task. Speaking before an audience of some 4,500 (mostly students from nearby colleges, activists and a few somewhat confused passersby) on behalf of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, she unveiled a speech titled "The Prime Rib of America" that took members of the Senate to task, urged her supporters to action and even managed to tie in rather nicely to the much-discussed "meat dress" she wore to last weekend's MTV Video Music Awards.
"My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. I am an American citizen ... [and] to the Senate, to Americans, to Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Susan Collins — both from Maine — and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts: Equality is the prime rib of America," she said. "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. Are you listening? Shouldn't everyone deserve the right to wear the same meat dress that I did? Repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.'
"I'm here today in this park, in Maine, to say that, if the Senate and the president are not going to repeal this 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, perhaps they should be more clear with us about who the military is fighting for, who our tax dollars are supporting and, ultimately, how much does the prime rib cost?" she continued. "Because I thought this was an 'all you can eat' buffet. This equality stuff, I thought equality meant everyone. But apparently, for certain value meals, for certain civil rights, I have to pay extra, because I'm gay. ... When it's time to order my meal, when it's time to benefit from the freedoms of the Constitution that I protect and fight for, I have to pay extra. I shouldn't have to pay extra. I should have the ability, the opportunity, the right to enjoy the same rights — the same piece of meat — that my fellow soldiers, fellow straight soldiers, already have included in their Meal of Rights. It's prime rib, it's the same size, it's the same grade, the same cost, at wholesale cost, and it's in the Constitution."
But Gaga's entire speech wasn't one long meat analogy. At one point, she drew whoops of support from the crowd by suggesting that several senators — including Arizona Republican John McCain, who plans to lead a filibuster against Tuesday's vote — were "using homophobia as a defense in their argument" and said that, rather than continue to support "don't ask, don't tell," perhaps those same senators would rather support her proposed piece of legislation.
"Doesn't it seem to be that 'don't ask, don't tell' is backwards? Doesn't it seem to you that we should send home the prejudiced? The straight soldier who hates the gay soldier? The straight soldier who has prejudice in his heart in the space where the military asks him to hold our core American values?" she asked. "I am here today because I would like to propose a new law; a law that sends home the soldier that has the problem. Our new law is called 'if you don't like it, go home.' If you are not committed 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 ... then go home."
Earlier in the afternoon, members of the SLDN — including discharged servicemen Mike Almy and David Hall, both of whom accompanied Gaga to the VMAs — told the crowd their personal stories of unjust prosecution at the hands of "don't ask." Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones, who had worked directly with the organization to bring the event to his city, also expressed his distaste for the policy. But the majority of the crowd was here to see Gaga, and she delivered. There were no flashy costumes (she wore a sportcoat, power tie and glasses) or over-the-top showpieces, just one of the biggest pop stars on the planet speaking out against what she considers to be an unjust law — and, hopefully, helping to get it overturned.
"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 tell," Gaga said. "I'm here because they inspire me. 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, it is against all that we stand for as Americans."
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