It would be fair to call Zach Solomon, an actor in his early 20s living in Queens, a Lady Gaga super-fan. He has "little monster" tattooed across his rib cage. He's seen her in concert six times (and each time he dressed in a Gaga-esque costume). Though, make no mistake, Solomon's fandom has always been rooted in something deeper than an affection for her danceable beats.
"The great thing about Gaga was that she gave me a newfound sense of confidence in my non-heteronormative identity," he explained. "First of all, to have an international pop superstar constantly and openly talk about her support for the LGBT community was something so new that really no one else was doing. She made you feel cool being a misfit and being different. It felt badass to be the weird kid."
Solomon was a freshman in college when Born This Way dropped, five years ago on May 23. The album hit number one on the Billboard 200 and went on to earn her three Grammy nominations. But for Solomon, the album's message was its greatest achievement. "I was standing in my dorm listening to it with my roommate. We both were like, 'This is amazing!' Not only was it super catchy and super fun to dance to, but it was also an anthem of sorts. 'No matter gay, straight or bi. Lesbian, transgendered life. I'm on the right track, baby. I was born to survive!' That was big. It felt exciting to hear that in a number one pop chart single. Then the album dropped, and it really felt like the beginning of an era, not only for Gaga and for little monsters, but you could feel the social climate changing."
While many fans saw her as a major LGBT advocate who identifies as bisexual herself, others accused her of using the gay community. In an interview with The Advocate that ran shortly after Born This Way dropped, Gaga even spoke out against those accusations, explaining, "To say that I would use the gay community to sell records is probably one of the most ridiculous statements anyone can make about me as a person. I would say the top thing I think about every single day of my life, other than my fans, loving the music, and my family being healthy, is social justice and equality.”
Solomon pointed out that, in 2011, vocal and unequivocal support for the gay rights movement was only barely reaching the mainstream. "Supporting the LGBT community at the time in the way that she did was, and still can be, very polarizing in America. She has always stood by us though, from the beginning. When she spoke at the National Equality March in support of marriage equality, Gaga literally screamed at the White House from her dais, 'OBAMA, ARE YOU LISTENING?!' Born This Way was an amazing pop, dance album, with a beautiful, fully realized artistic vision, but also one that was socially aware."
Lady Gaga's bold style and confidence in her unique vision has inspired the same kind of self-assurance in her fans, who grew up hearing her sing, "Don't hide yourself in regret, Just love yourself and you're set." As Solomon explained, "I like to think that's she's given me a confidence to be myself and to be weird and fabulous all together."