Lady Gaga won't sway Pentagon on 'don't ask don't tell'

Lady Gaga is in Maine Monday at a rally pushing to repeal the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on gays in the military.

Chris Pizzello/AP
Lady Gaga arrives at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards with an entourage of gay service members Sept. 12 in Los Angeles.

She's the most followed person in the world on Twitter, but Lady Gaga’s push to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell" during a rally in Maine Monday is likely to have little impact within the halls of the Pentagon.

When asked how carefully US military officials will be following the gathering featuring the rock superstar with a penchant for outrageous outfits occasionally featuring, say, meats, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan says, “We’re not.”

Organizers of the event had been hoping otherwise. “I think they are watching it very closely,” posits Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Service Members Legal Defense Network, which coordinated with Lady Gaga to organize the event.

But the attitude is likely to be different on Capitol Hill, where the annual defense authorization bill is up for a vote Tuesday. One of the most controversial elements in it is a provision to repeal the law that bars openly gay troops from serving in the US military.

When the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) voted to add the don’t ask, don’t tell repeal provision to the defense bill last spring, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to support the measure. She said Friday that she is undecided on her vote on the full defense bill Tuesday. Sen. Olympia Snowe, the other Maine Republican, has said that she, too, is unsure how she will vote.

And that’s where Lady Gaga comes in, says Mr. Sarvis. His group has targeted Maine because “Lady Gaga and the SLDN team saw this as a strategic place to be.” The votes of both senators “obviously” are “critical,” he adds.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that from the perspective of the Pentagon, repealing DADT is not a matter of “whether,” but “how we best prepare for it.” For this, he has drawn fire from Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the SASC, who grumbled that, if this was the case, the Pentagon was ignoring the wishes of Congress.

But Gates has also said that he prefers to first see the conclusions of a Pentagon study on repealing the ban, whose results are due December 1. This has prompted criticism from supporters of the repeal who say that US defense officials are dragging their feet.

The Senate could still be debating the bill, however, by the time the Pentagon’s DADT report is done.

In the meantime, Gates put steps in place to relax the enforcement of DADT last March when he issued a guidance discouraging Pentagon lawyers from proceeding with prosecutions in which troops have been outed by fellow soldiers due to, for example, a vendetta.

After Lady Gaga met with SLDN clients who had been expelled from the military under the DADT law, “she was moved,” Sarvis says. She then invited some gay service members to accompany her on the red carpet of the recent MTV Video Music Awards.

She also told SLDN, Sarvis adds, that “she wanted to be more active in the repeal fight.”

It was about 48 hours ago that “she decided she wanted to weigh in, so jointly we decided that Maine would be a strategic place for her to be 24 hours before the vote.”

The message, says Sarvis, “is that she’s going to go to her base – to where real people are – and she’s going to continue to connect with the grassroots, whether it be in Maine or any other key state. Lady Gaga's involvement,” he adds, “will go beyond Tuesday’s vote.”

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