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

"Primarily, the kids that are taking to the streets are 18, 19, 20, 21, and she is their Madonna, their Cher, the next-generation diva, so to speak," says Ross von Metzke, editor of "She puts her time and money where her mouth is."

Over dessert at the HRC gala, D.C. Council member David Catania admitted to being obsessed with her but doesn't view her as political. "I look at it as pure entertainment," he said. "She's a fantastic performer."

What of the lesbians, though? Are they as taken by Gaga as gay men? Chris Crespo, who works for Ernst & Young just north of Pittsburgh, and her partner, Jane Switzer, first heard about Gaga only a couple of weeks ago. As members of a more senior gay generation, they're not sold yet.

"We're always excited to see someone speaking the truth," Switzer offered before the gala began. "She definitely draws a crowd."

Gaga took the stage just before 10 p.m. to express her gratitude for the HRC. She was restrained. The artifice momentarily vanished.

"In the music industry there's still a tremendous amount of accommodation of homophobia," she said. "So I'm taking a stand. . . . I'm not going to play one of my songs tonight because tonight is not about me. It's about you." And then she sat at a white baby grand piano and began to plink out the familiar see-saw intro to John Lennon's "Imagine," whose second verse she changed to fit the moment.

People of the nation:

Are you listening?

It isn't equal if it's sometimes.

I want a real democracy.

Imagine all the people

Could love equally . . .

Crespo turned in her seat after the performance to make a note.

"She has a new fan," she said.

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