washingtonpost.com
For Gay Activists, The Lady Is a Champ
Fans Go Gaga As Singer Joins the March

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.

"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 Advocate.com. "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.

Post a Comment


Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company