TACOMA — Lady Gaga had a message Monday for the screaming, costumed fans who showed up outside the Tacoma Dome hours before her concert: Help make society more accepting of differences and safer for young people.
"The change begins with you," the recording artist told the crowd over a loudspeaker before starting the American leg of her Born This Way Tour.
In the background, a banner flown by an airplane hired by the Florida Family Association had a different message: "NOT BORN THIS WAY."
The pre-concert tailgate was outside Gaga's Born Brave Bus, part of her Born This Way Foundation. The gathering was meant to help connect fans with community resources such as mental health services and volunteer organizations.
The Florida Family Association, whose leaders in Tampa could not be reached for comment Monday evening, stated on its website that it paid $1,900 to fly the banner from 1 p.m. until sundown. The group said it is seeking donations to fly the banner at other stops on Gaga's tour.
On its website, the group asked: "How would you feel if your child or grandchild went to a concert where unbeknownst to you they were convinced to embrace a homosexual or transgender lifestyle for a lifetime?"
Some of Gaga's fans said the Florida group had missed the singer's message.
"It's not just about gay rights, it's about loving your fellow humans," Kaitlyn Kaneshiro, 19, of Enumclaw. "Get to know me, then you can judge me."
She was with new friends she had met in line from Portland, Bellevue and Montana. That happens when you're all Gaga fans, according to the group, most of whom wore Gaga-related face paint.
"We're all little monsters," 18-year-old Bruce Strange of Portland said, quoting the artist's pet name for her fans. As for the people responsible for the banner, he said he'd try to find common ground if they were there in person.
"I would like to have a conversation with them," he said.
"She's given us everything," said Veronica Rivera, 20 of Whitefish, Mont., who has several Gaga tattoos, including one that reads: "Born This Way." Gaga's music helped her through a time that she had suicidal thoughts and would hurt herself, she said.
"I had no idea who I was," Rivera said. "I was able to come out of the closet and rise up from the darkness. Everybody's fighting a battle."
The camaraderie of fellow fans is a big part of Gaga's message, she said.
"Coming to her show is a time, for once, to not be alone," she said before hugging a new friend from Bellevue she said she had met 10 minutes before.
Brittney Blankenship, 21, of Lewiston, Idaho, said the banner was the Florida group's prerogative.
"It's disheartening, but it's their right," she said. "As much as we want to have this pride, they have the right to feel how they do too."
Some fans felt Gaga's message of acceptance extended to those flying the banner.
"If that guy landed the plane and got in line, no one would have a problem," said Tina Hoyos, 53, of Seattle, sporting rhinestone eyelashes. "As a parent and as a fan, I don't think I've ever seen a more respectful crowd of people."
Gaga's music helped her get through chemotherapy for breast cancer, she said as she stood in line with 13-year-old daughter Tessa.
"We're all born the way we are, and God don't make junk," she said, adding she learned that lesson from her mother. Tessa learned it from Gaga.
"God doesn't make mistakes," the 13-year-old added, paraphrasing one of Gaga's popular lyrics.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org