There are many different ways for celebrities to leverage their notoriety to help a cause. They can play a concert, write a check, make a PSA or, as in the case of actor Sean Penn, live in a meager tent in an earthquake-ravaged country for six months and run their own relief organization. But few stars have given as much in as short a time as Lady Gaga has to the cause of repealing the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“The reality is that on Saturday night we were looking at what we could do on Monday, knowing that even if we sent out an alert to our base of 80,000 supporters, we’d be talking to the same people,” said Trevor Thomas, spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization dedicated to ending DADT. “We wanted to expand our reach and reach more people nationally and, more than anything, the two swing senators [in Maine] who could give us a chance.”
The SLDN quickly hatched a plan to organize a rally in Maine on Monday in an attempt to get swing-vote Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to possibly change their votes on the repeal. That’s where Lady Gaga came in. The pop icon had walked the white carpet at the VMAs with four SLDN members, shouted them out from the stage, turned her website over to the issue and posted public video pleas about the issue. When word came of this last-minute appeal, once again, she stepped up.
According to Thomas, the singer finished a show in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Sunday night, hopped on a bus and took a 15-hour ride to Maine, personally writing her address on the way.
“The dedication from her was amazing,” he said. “She wrote the speech, did the research and talked to people, and it did exactly what we need to do — highlight the issue to young people and others who might not have heard about this cause. But most importantly, we did it in this key area we needed it in.”
The Gaga speech garnered massive local and national coverage for the issue, with stories in the Denver Post, USA Today and The New York Times, among others. “You can work for months to place one story in the Times’ print section, and even if politics prevail and we lose the vote, more people know about the DADT repeal than did yesterday,” Thomas said.
And while Gaga’s mighty push to lock in the necessary votes didn’t save the day when the crucial Senate vote took place on Tuesday (September 21), Thomas said her help undoubtedly had a huge impact and put a global spotlight on the policy.
From the night Gaga first spoke out on the repeal at the 2010 VMAs and redirected traffic from her official website to the SLDN site until 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Thomas said, 314,446 people clicked to the “take action” tab, which sent them to a site listing the phone numbers where U.S. senators could be reached about the vote. While it’s unknown how many of those clicks turned into actual phone calls, Thomas said he was “100 percent sure” that the site would not have gotten nearly that many visits without Gaga’s efforts.
The total number of visitors was nearly four times the amount of supporters SLDN had gathered pre-Gaga, but Thomas pointed out an even more impressive number. During that same two-week period, the pages on the SLDN website with background information on DADT got 520,298 page views. In contrast, during the first two weeks of the month, the site had 13,000 visitors and 30,000 page views.
“There are many people who are high-profile who speak out in a positive manner on LGBT issues,” Thomas said. “But the difference here is she asked, ‘What can I do?’ at a time when it was critically important for the passage of our bill. Not only did she say that, but she asked how and when to do it. When you look at the past couple of weeks, you see not just strategic tweets but the video address that hit days before the critical vote and which was driving many calls to the Senate switchboard. I don’t know of many entertainers who at the critical moment for a bill would stop their website and direct it to a ‘take action’ page for a relatively small group trying to push an issue crucially important to servicemembers and those who support them.”
Before Tuesday’s vote, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — the Nevada senator exchanged DADT-related tweets last week with Gaga — said the Democratic boss welcomed Mother Monster’s advocacy. “We appreciate the support of Lady Gaga and her supporters,” Manley said. “Sometimes that can have an impact, especially when you are as apparently committed as she is to the cause.”
Even with all of Gaga’s work, CNN reported that both Collins and Snowe said Gaga’s appearance at Monday’s rally in Maine had no effect on their crucial votes; the final 56-43 tally helped ensure that the Senate would not open a DADT repeal discussion during its current session. Collins, in fact, supported the repeal, but told the network she felt she had to stay in line with her colleagues and vote against debate for procedural reasons.
What do you think about Gaga’s efforts in the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Share your thoughts in the comments!