SHE ARRIVES Lady Gaga walks to the stage at Monday's rally.
Maine became a gay-rights battleground again this week, complete with junior-high-style political maneuvering and pop-culture madness. While Lady Gaga’s Deering Oaks Park appearance was remarkable — and to have one of the world’s biggest pop stars in Portland was a boon for the city — it appears to have had little effect (shocking!) on Maine senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who were considered crucial swing votes in the fight to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. As feared, they dealt that fight a major setback this week.
On Tuesday afternoon, the bill that included the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell stalled in the Senate. It may be taken up again during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections in November, but the congressional climate could be much different then. It’s now unlikely that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be repealed this year.
Gaga’s appearance was both good and bad, in that it brought out a lot of people who maybe don’t know that much about the history of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, much less the minutiae of the legislative process.
Why it was good: Because present in that crowd of teeny-boppers and Little Monsters was the next generation of activists, some of whom made their first call to Capitol Hill on Monday afternoon. That’s awesome. Also because Congress is sometimes boring and petty — and Gaga’s point that DADT is legalized homophobia, coupled with the other speakers’ personal stories, made clear that they and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network are fighting for a cause that’s much bigger than niggling political grudges.
Why it was bad: Because Gaga was preaching to the choir (a choir comprised at least partially of people who were more interested in what she was wearing than in understanding the policy, or people’s lives, at stake). Because it didn’t work.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban was established in 1993 and bars openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer individuals from serving in the military. It is also supposed to restrict the US military from prying into soldiers’ sexuality; several of Monday’s speakers — including discharged former military men and women — indicated that they were outed by fellow service members. Over the past 17 years, about 14,000 men and women have been discharged from the US military as a result of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s estimated that another 65,000 active duty soldiers identify as gay or lesbian.
Earlier this month, a federal district court judge declared the policy — which was crafted as a compromise by Bill Clinton — unconstitutional. The Pentagon is currently conducting a comprehensive (Obama-administration-mandated) review of how lifting the ban would actually work. The US House of Representatives voted earlier this year to approve a DADT repeal. The Senate Armed Services Committee (on which Collins sits) voted for the repeal in a 16-12 vote in May. Collins was the only Republican on the committee to vote in favor of the repeal provision. In both the House and Senate bills, repeal would await the release of the Pentagon report, which is due to President Obama on December 1.