The latest single from Lady Gaga, “Applause,” already has fans arguing over whether the songstress is still relevant, the real debate is, when it comes to outspoken advocates for LGBT equality, whether any other singer sets a higher standard than Mother Monster.
From marching in Pride parades to launching her own nonprofit antibullying organization, Gaga has repeatedly fought for LGBT equality since the earliest days of her career, taking every opportunity to voice her support in interviews, during acceptance speeches, and even in televised performances.
The following 12 memorable moments show Gaga hasn’t merely raised the bar for those who would claim the status of gay icon, she’s completely reinvented the criteria.
“To God and the Gays”
Lady Gaga positioned herself as an LGBT advocate from earliest days of her career. At the 2009 MuchMusic Awards, Gaga’s “Poker Face” won International Video of the Year, and she ended her acceptance speech by sending thanks “to God and the gays.” That same year Gaga made the cover of Out magazine’s September issue. “I very much want to inject gay culture into the mainstream,” she told Out. “It's not an underground tool for me. It's my whole life. So I always sort of joke the real motivation is to just turn the world gay.”
Shortly after Barbara Walters named Lady Gaga one of the most fascinating people of 2009, the singer sat down for a one-on-one interview with the legendary journalist, and Gaga spoke openly about being bisexual. During the interview, Gaga stated that she liked both men and women, and when Walters asked if she’d ever had sex with another female, Gaga replied, “I’ve certainly had sexual relationships with women, yes.”
Discrimination in the Military
In 2010, Gaga took a fierce stand against the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. Dressed in a frock made of meat, Gaga attended the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards accompanied by four members of the U.S. military who had been discharged or decided to resign due to DADT. When interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres later that night, Gaga revealed the meaning behind her controversial meat dress. “If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones.”
Continuing the Good Fight
The songstress could have stopped fighting the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy after her night at the 2010 MTV VMAs, but she continued by releasing three videos on YouTube shortly after the show. In the videos she encouraged others to contact their senators and urge them to repeal DADT. She then took the fight further by speaking at the "4the14K" rally in Portland, Maine, where she called on members of the Senate to repeal DADT. "Equality is the prime rib of what we stand for as a nation," she said to the crowd at the Portland rally. "And I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat that my country has to offer."
Born This Way
In February 2011, Gaga released “Born This Way,” the lead single and title cut from her second studio album. The track quickly claimed the top spot on the Billboard charts and made history as the first number 1 song to contain the word “transgendered” in its lyrics.
In March of 2011, Gaga was set to release and an exclusive version of her highly anticipated album Born This Way through Target stores. But when the retail giant refused to support LGBT charities groups to balance donations the company had made to an antigay politician, the singer walked away from the deal.
"That discussion was one of the most intense conversations I've ever had in a business meeting," Gaga said in an interview with Billboard magazine. "Part of my deal with Target is that they have to start affiliating themselves with LGBT charity groups and begin to reform and make amends for the mistakes they've made in the past ... our relationship is hinged upon their reform in the company to support the gay community and to redeem the mistakes they've made supporting those [antigay] groups."
Just One of the Guys
In a move that challenged gender stereotypes and conceptions, Gaga appeared at the 2011 MTV VMA’s dressed in male drag calling herself Jo Calderone and delivering an unforgettable performance of her hit song “You and I.”
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
In 2012, Gaga launched the Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on youth empowerment and related matters, such as self-confidence, well-being, mentoring, career development, and the fight agains bullying. Backing up her words with action, the songstress donated $1.2 million to help with initial efforts to get the organization off the ground. Then, with the Born Brave Bus tour, she took suicide prevention materials on the road with her to concerts. “Together we hope to establish a standard of bravery and kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment,” Gaga said in a statement announcing the foundation.
Gaga Goes to Washington
It wasn't exactly a summit with the president. But Gaga did bring her message about fighting bullying directly to President Obama. During a question-and-answer session at a private fund-raiser, Gaga thanked Obama for hosting an antibullying conference and implored others in the room to do anything they could to stand up for kids. It all happened around the time that upstate New York teen Jamey Rodemeyer's suicide created headlines and the star dedicated a performance of "Hair" to his memory (see video above). She eventually did visit the White House to address the issue. Then Gaga's mom worked with top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett on a suicide prevention program launched in 2012.
The Four Big Votes
When voters in four states had the chance in 2012 to make a difference for marriage equality, Lady Gaga helped give a boost to a social media awareness campaign called "The Four" by taping a video message. “I just wanted to remind those of you who live in Maine, Minnesota, Washington, or Maryland that you can actually vote for marriage equality on the ballot this year,” she said, hoping to reach movable mainstream voters. One of the group's cofounders called her "a major amplifier of equality.”
I Knew You When…
Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court made two historic rulings, striking down both Proposition 8 and a key part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Gaga made an appearance at New York’s 2013 Pride celebration, where she spoke passionately about LGBT equality before belting out a retooled version of the national anthem as she clutched a rainbow flag. “It’s my LGBT friends and fans who always said to me, ‘I knew Lady Gaga when.’ Well, look who the star is now,” she said, gesturing toward the cheering crowd. “Now I get to say I knew you when you suffered. When you felt unequal. When you felt there was nothing to look forward to. I knew you then and I knew you when, but I really know you now.”
Mother Monster Versus Mother Russia
While performing in Russia last year, Gaga bucked the country's growing movement toward “gay propaganda” laws (first passed regionally, and this year nationally) and spoke out against the antigay climate. “Tonight this is my house, Russia,” she proclaimed before a crowd of Russian fans. “You can be gay in my house.” Authorities have threatened her, but have so far ended up accusing her only of violating a technicality in her visa. Still, Gaga has continued to support LGBT Russians, who have faced ever more serious troubles recently. “The rise in government abuse is archaic," she wrote on Twitter. “Hosing teenagers with pepper spray? Beatings? Mother Russia? The Russian government is criminal. Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.”