News » Family

Dollywood ’Gay’ T-Shirt Flap Elicits Apology from Parton

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 2, 2011

Dolly Parton has come out with an apology following an incident in which a lesbian couple visiting the theme park named after the country music star were instructed to turn a T-shirt inside-out in order to obscure a slogan expressing support for marriage equality, ABC News reported on July 29.

The incident created headlines last week. "Olivier Odom and Jennifer Tipton said [July 26] they want the park to be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families after Odom was asked to reverse her shirt when they visited Dollywood Splash Country next to the Pigeon Forge amusement park," the Associated Press reported in a July 27 article.

The couple was visiting Dollywood along with other family members on July 9. Odom's shirt sported the slogan, "Marriage is So Gay."

"When she asked why she needed to turn the shirt inside out, the park worker told Odom that Dollywood is a 'family park,' " ABC News reported.

Tipton told the AP, "That's what we found so offensive -- that he said it was a family park." She went on to add, "Families come in a wide range of definitions these days and we were with our family."

Odom did as she was asked and turned her T-shirt inside out so as not to offend any members of the public who might take exception to the idea that loving same-sex couples might want to formalize their relationship in a civil contract that entails over 1,000 rights and protections.

But Odom followed up later with a letter to the theme park in which she argued for policies that were "inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people" and "inclusive of all families," ABC News added. "She also stated that she felt Dollywood's policy about not allowing clothing or tattoos with offensive messages should be more clearly spelled out," the article reported.

Parton herself contacted ABC News with a statement on the incident, the article added.

"I am truly sorry for the hurt or embarrassment regarding the gay and lesbian t-shirt incident at Dollywood's Splash Country recently," the country music star wrote in the statement.

"Everyone knows of my personal support of the gay and lesbian community,' Parton continued. "Dollywood is a family park and all families are welcome."

The statement went on to say that the park's policies regarding "offensive" messages on T-shirts were put in place for the safety of patrons who might be wearing such garments. The prohibition also extends to signs or placards.

"I am looking further into the incident and hope and believe it was more policy than insensitivity," Parton added. "I am very sorry it happened at all."

Parton told CNN's Joy Behar in 2009 that she supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian families. Parton, who has a sizable gay following, joked with the news program host, "I always say, 'Sure, why can't they get married? They should suffer like the rest of us do,' " reported in Nov. 16, 2009.

Wikipedia includes Parton on a list of "Gay icons" that also features Cher, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and comic Ellen DeGeneres. Parton, the posting says, was "particularly embraced by the gay community during the '70s and '80s," as were Charo, Diana Ross, and Grace Jones.

Parton has said that because she is esteemed by so many gay fans, she is subject to a certain level of harassment herself.

"Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats," Parton said on one occasion.

"As you know, I've always been outspoken... I've always believed that a person should be who they are, and you should be comfortable being who you are, and people should leave you alone to be who you are and how you are," Parton told CNN host Larry King during a November 25, 2010 appearance. "So I think I have always been accepted in the gay community because I accept them."

Asked by King why gays face acrimony, Parton said, "You can't tell me that people are any way other than what they are supposed to be. I don't think gay people are trying to just be different, just to make other people miserable," Parton then called for greater acceptance for all minorities.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2011-08-02 09:26:36

    Been to Dollywood with my boyfriend when we were visiting his mother in TN. From the elderly down to the children we heard anti-gay remarks from the patrons there. I LOVE Dolly, and respect her a lot, I just wish her fans or patrons would get at least SOME of her message of respect for others. It’s not like she doesn’t spread the word and support equality for everyone.

  • Michael Damon, 2011-08-02 13:15:51

    Get gay workers. Solves everything! Lol

  • , 2011-08-02 14:35:27

    My Dolly Lama speaks peace in this world.

  • That Long Beach guy, 2011-08-02 18:32:07

    Love you, Dolly. I wish more of your non-gay fans felt as you do. Acceptance is what will save the world. And I’m not speaking only of acceptance of the gay community.

  • , 2011-08-02 19:10:22

    I know it defeats the purpose of inclusion, but does Dollywood have a "Gay Day?"

  • learning2letgo, 2011-08-03 00:37:35

    The homosexual population is and always has been misunderstood. Fear of the unknown is the breeding for ignorance and intolerance. Homosexual men and women "chose" to lead their "alternative" lifestyles the very same say that those in the faction of the "religious right" chose to lead their " normal" heterosexual lives. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community does not have an agenda for creating public disturbances, we all just seek the same equality and respect desired by all individuals in this ever changing world. Thank you, Dolly Parton for speaking up on our behalf and for making an apology on behalf of your ill educated park associate.

  • , 2011-08-03 14:23:10

    Sometimes opinions are best left up to God himself and let him be the judge of us all. We all have read what HE loves and what HE hates. I think Dolly has every right to speak her mind but sometimes silence is blyss when you are in business there are both sides who want to be pleased.

  • , 2011-08-06 08:51:42

    First of all let’s get something clear.....being Gay is not a choice who would choose a life of hate and ridicule......I was born this way ....thank you Dolly for your support!!

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