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Dolly’s family

Timothy Kincaid

August 2nd, 2011

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to name an amusement park after yourself. It take a boatload of charm and goodwill to get away with it. And Dolly Parton has both, in spades.

Along with an entertainment career including top-five country hits in each of the past five decades, half a dozen movies, more than 3000 songs, a themepark complex, a production company, the title of Queen of Country Music, and the respect of most everyone who’s ever worked with her.

Dolly also has a long history of supporting the gay community ranging from simple statements of inclusion (“they accept me and I accept them“) to endorsement of issues, projects with LGBT themes, support for AIDS causes, and perhaps most importantly to being the voice of comfort and love to gay kids growing up in the Bible Belt.

So when I heard that a lesbian couple accused a themepark owned by Parton of being insensitive to gay couples, I dismissed it as a misunderstanding.

On July 9, Olivier Odom and Jennifer Tipton attended Dollywood Splash Country with two children. But the ticket agent requested that Odem turn her shirt inside out so that the slogan “Marriage is so gay” not offend other customers. He noted that Dollywood is a “family park”.

And the Dollywood complex does have a “family” dress code which restricts slogans:

To preserve our family atmosphere proper clothing is required including shirts and shoes (sandals or flip-flops are acceptable). Clothing with offensive words and/or pictures will not be permitted inside the park. Guests may not wear character type costumes on park.

For decades, the word “family” has been utilized as code for “no gays allowed.” Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, American Family Institute, Family Values Coalition, and a host of other “family organizations” have all used the slur “anti-family” to tell the world that LGBT people are not only unwholesome and dangerous but an enemy of home, hearth, and protection of children. And even secular use such as “family programming” or “family counseling” has at times defined family in ways that exclude LGBT people.

Which makes Dolly Parton’s response to the issue even more interesting:

I am truly sorry for the hurt or embarrassment regarding the gay and lesbian t-shirt incident at Dollywood’s Splash Country recently. Everyone knows of my personal support of the gay and lesbian community. Dollywood is a family park and all families are welcome. I am looking further into the incident and hope and believe it was more policy than insensitivity. I am very sorry it happened at all.

This is the appropriate response: owning responsibility, reassuring the community, and promising further review. A well crafted apology.

But there in the middle is a seemingly innocuous sentence that sets an entire industry of anti-gay activism on its ear. Lesbian couples are not welcomed as some exception to the family image, but because the Dollywood definition of “family park” already welcomes them. This is a revolutionary statement for Bible Belt mentality.

Dollywood is careful that it’s image is not like some amusement parks which seem to cater to vulgarity and crassness. No, Dollywood is a safe place designed for the family. It’s wholesome and unoffensive and protective of the innocence of children, so naturally it’s where gay families belong. Because gay people are part of what Dolly calls “family“.

And this casual presumption of inclusion in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is what makes Dolly Parton a particularly effective ally and a truly wonderful person.



August 2nd, 2011 | LINK

I don’t understand this paragraph. It says lesbian couples are not welcome. Are they welcome or not?

“But there in the middle is a seemingly innocuous sentence that sets an entire industry of anti-gay activism on its ear. Lesbian couples are not welcome despite the family image, but because Dollywood is a “family park”. This is a revolutionary statement for Bible Belt mentality.”

Timothy Kincaid
August 2nd, 2011 | LINK


the words “despite” and “because” were italicized to indicate that it the welcome does not come as some sort of exception to the rule but rather because Dolly’s idea of family already includes them.

However, as this may be confusing, I’ve changed the wording.

August 2nd, 2011 | LINK

I don’t know how I missed the italics. Thanks for explaining.

August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

I have to say — if they can straighten things out, I’m extremely supportive of Dolly here. There *should* be spaces set aside where no one has to worry about slogans on shirts at all — take a break from the personal politics and have a good day out. In that light, if enforced across the board, the park would be right to make that request of anyone with a shirt like that.

All they need to do is to anticipate reactions and make sure they phrase things to mean what they intend, and not bear the freight of others’ past prejudices by mistake.

August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

I appreciate Ms. Parton’s response and my admiration for her is very, very high.

However, I would be interested in knowing the last time the “Clothing with offensive and/or pictures will not be permitted inside the park” was enforced in a similar manner.

I wonder what training Dollywood staff receive about how to determine if something is offensive.

Would an explicitly religious slogan, say one urging people to believe in Jesus, be banned? Would an explicitly political T-shirt, say one supportive of Pres. Obama, be banned? These slogans might offend some people or cause a disruption, which this policy is meant to minimize.

I get the idea that “Sh*t Happens” should be prohibited (even with the asterisk), but “gay” is not a four-letter word.

That said, Dollywood is private property and certainly has considerable discretion over what it will and will not allow.

August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

If such a question comes up again, offer the person a couple of Dolly shirts in exchange for the offender shirt.

tell them your making a collection of odd shirts and would love to make a trade for the collection.

One shirt, three people all three get dolly shirts. It would probably make their day.

Of course they could take the offensive one home as well but it might be more obvious what you are doing.

Make everyone happy.

Name the odd shirt house AFA hic ups.

August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Dolly Parton is a class act (though I wouldn’t be into her music) and this statement just reaffirms that fact!!

Ed in Knoxville
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Dolly’s music, though usually in the country-bluegrass range, is often pretty universal in appeal. The song she wrote for “Transamerica” comes to mind – it’s really a gospel song, but seamlessly echoes the movie’s themes and subtext.

One thing I’d like to add to Dolly’s resume from the article: her Imagination Library is a children’s literacy program that gives one free book per month to kids 5 & under whose parents register with the program. She’s given away over 40 million books and counting.

Truly a national treasure on so many levels.

Paul J. Stein
August 4th, 2011 | LINK

Dolly knows in a family not everyone gets along all the time.She just wants us to treat each other with respect and dignity and see our family members point of view and respect them, all of them. I was a transplanted OHIO 19 yo kid in the hills of Tennessee living in a “holler” with a new wife. The family matriarch is great Tennessee tradition welcoming all who enter. Felt like home from day one. I miss that feeling.

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