Lady Gaga, Already a Gay Icon, Shows She's an Activist Too

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 2009

Lady Gaga came to Washington over the weekend to accept her crown as the gay community's reigning pop culture icon, snatching the title from the clutches of Britney (too fake), Kelly Clarkson (too "Idol") and Beyoncé (too Diana Ross in "Mahogany"). The outlandish, platinum-selling, bisexual, 23-year-old pop singer was the highest-wattage celebrity to attend both the Human Rights Campaign dinner Saturday night and the National Equality March on Sunday. Her name was on everyone's lips for a solid 48 hours. A movement is genuflecting.

So, Ms. Gaga, m'lady: Any pressure?

"There's no pressure," she said, incredulous at the very notion. She was leaning on a stone ledge under a tree by the Capitol, her face powdered white, hair platinum, lips scarlet, hands slipped in the pockets of black trousers hitched up with black suspenders. Nearby rally-goers screeched her name. She had marched with the crowds from her hotel after shrugging off security concerns, and had just finished a short speech to an enraptured throng of tens of thousands on the West Lawn. Glittery signs reading "Gay for Gaga" and "Lady Gaga {heart} Equality, U Should 2" poked up from the rainbowed masses.

"ARE YOU LISTENING?" the pop star screamed out to President Obama. "We will continue to push your administration to bring your promise to reality."

The singer had stepped up from her concert soapbox to a bigger platform. Was this just part of her elaborate performance art, another special effect from an entertainer (born Stefani Germanotta in New York) who only has one album and less than two years of mainstream exposure? If you challenge her on this, she'll squeeze your arm to assure you she's for real.

"I will never turn my back on my friends," said Lady Gaga, before disappearing from the rally. "Today is not a one-off performance."

The gays surged toward her at the HRC dinner Saturday. They went nuts when she appeared, like some modern-day Evita, in the window of the elevated VIP booth at the 9:30 club hours later. She's freaky-deaky, like a female drag queen, a hot mess yet super-savvy, fierce and fab, a prodigious pianist, dressed like a vamp but almost childlike in her sincerity. All of this was on display Saturday night.

She sat front-and-center at the black-tie Human Rights Campaign gala in the ballroom of the Washington Convention Center, where 3,000 gay advocates and allies clinked glasses and liberally exercised the right to give standing ovations (she got two). HRC President Joe Solmonese says she was an obvious invite -- "She pushes boundaries and brings people along" -- and credited her for the dinner's rapid sellout. Even the president of the United States knows his place.

"It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady Gaga," Obama said during his remarks.

Gaga sat at Table 77, looking slightly embalmed, in her version of formalwear: fishnet stockings and a bunchy black dress made of layered mesh below the waist and crushed velvet above. She hid her eyes behind large, circular sunglasses, part circus act, part savior of the moment. Some can't help hyperbolizing.

"It's almost like Martin Luther King and the civil rights speeches," said gala attendee Daniel Campbell, 23, who works at a downtown CVS and at Reagan National Airport. "We have a voice."

People say she's perfect for her time and place. Her music, which she writes herself, is an infectious blend of pop and electronic. The sexual shell game "Poker Face," the club anthem "Just Dance" or "Paparazzi," a self-aware cry for help from within the fortress of fame, will play at least once in any gay club on any given night. Her performance style is raw despite relying on over-the-top production values. She sort of makes fame into an art, and she sounds fervent about gay rights. "Get your [rear end] to D.C.," she demanded in a video released last week.

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