Oh boy. Well, as many of you know, the State of North Carolina has a new HB2 Law, which requires a person to utilize the public restroom facility that coincides with their biological gender. This includes intersex people who may have “male” on their birth certificate but actually have breasts and both a penis and vagina. The backlash of this law comes, in part, because it allows blatant discrimination of people who look different. As some of us know, there was a recent incident in which a masculine looking woman was escorted from the women’s bathroom line by police. POLICE! She needed to pee. She is a woman. She was in line with several other women who knew her and vouched for her. Yet she doesn’t fit their image of what a woman is supposed to look like, so she literally was kicked out of the line for this public restroom. According to the law, she can’t use the men’s either, because she has a vagina. Where is this woman supposed to pee?
The discriminatory nature of these laws (which also allow for legal discrimination for LGBT in areas beyond the bathroom) has prompted several music artists to cancel their concerts in North Carolina venues. It all started with “The Boss.” Bruce Springsteen cancelled the Greensboro, NC stop on this tour on April 8th, just two days before his scheduled appearance, citing it was the strongest means he had in raising his voice in opposition to the law. To Bruce I say “Thank you.” Bruce was followed by others. Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato and Pearl Jam followed suit and cancelled their appearances in North Carolina. These artists were revered in the LGBT community for their public show of support.
Anytime a famous person stands up for the rights of the oppressed, it’s a big deal. Celebrities have been known to make differences by lifting their voices. Sometimes, they lose followers. Sometimes, they change hearts and minds. At any rate, it’s always a gamble because in this day and age, when you speak out for one side, it’s common opinion that you are automatically speaking out against the other. Because the love of the artist and their craft is what brings in the money, expressing any opinions that cause disdain can hurt stars financially. So many stay mum.
Which brings me to the current issue. This morning I was scouring news pages as I normally do and I came across this article.
That’s right. Dolly Parton is beating to her own drum as she always has and not following the others in the boycott of North Carolina venues. She will start her tour as scheduled in Greensboro and many LGBT people and allies are fighting mad. They are accusing her of folding because of greed, cowardice or to simply save face. They are denouncing her as an ally with promises to shred the tickets they hold to her performances at other venues and throw her C.D.’s in the recycle bin. I have been pouring over the comment section and noticing that many of the ill-fated wishes towards Dolly are coming from the under-30 crowd.
Let me tell ya’ll youngsters a little something about Dolly. I am 42 years old and I have been openly gay since I was 19 years old. While I am sure you can do the math, that means I have been “out” for 23 years. I was out when some gay folks were still married to their spouses of the opposite sex. I was out when some straight folks thought I was going through a phase because I didn’t look like Pat from Saturday night live. I was out when I had to face judgment of other folks for being gay when they were sleeping with a different person each week but it was okay, because straight folks can repent. I was out in the BIBLE BELT when many gay folks were still in the closet. I was out before many of you were “born that way.”
It was before Ellen, before Will and Grace and lightyears before Modern Family. There were no gay people on T.V. Gay actors were still in the closet. Gay people weren’t even talked about except for in hushed tones and sad disapproval at best, terroristic threats at worst. Old people still though Jodie Foster was just “kinda plain.” While many brave souls were out even before I was and suffered greatly for it, some dying for it, the facts are that gay folks were virtually invisible in southern society in the early 1990’s. We didn’t have P-Flag or Pride Parades, no support groups. We had churches, lots of them. We were encouraged to get ourselves there every Sunday so we could be “changed.” I was there. Nothing happened except my listening to constant drivel about how people like me were the absolute dregs of society. We were to be feared and at least 50 feet away from your children at all times. In the scope of things, it looked pretty bleak for anyone who was gay or questioning their sexuality at that point, especially in the southern states. No one had our backs. Except one person. Dolly Parton.
A lot of ya’ll don’t remember the early 90’s. You weren’t on the planet yet. Some of you were alive but weren’t affected by gay issues because you weren’t gay or because you hadn’t discovered you were gay. At any rate, I remember. I was paying close attention. I was looking for any shred of support, of camaraderie that I could find. Before I found a place in a community of other gay people, I was virtually alone. But I wasn’t in the closet. I was honest with people at work. I was honest with my high school friends. I was accepted by some, laughed at by others, judged by many. That said, I had it much easier than some. We weren’t online back then. There wasn’t social media. You couldn’t google the word gay and a thousand supportive articles come up for you to read and relate to. But there was Dolly.
Dolly Parton has been a vocal LGBT ally since the 1980’s and put her support in writing as early as 1994 in her autobiography entitled “My Life and Other Unfinished Business.” In a time when other celebrities, including Bruce Springsteen, were silent about the LGBT community, Dolly was walking on serious thin ice by her public support of LGBT people. You must understand, the pot of “out” LGBT people was extremely small back then. Dolly would have probably lost nothing by keeping quiet about gay people. It was still illegal to be in gay relationships in some states!! Dolly, as a Christian and southerner, survived almost solely on the support of country music followers. Back in those days, country music wasn’t like it is now. It was very conservative and Christian. There weren’t any Blake’s or Miranda’s. Dolly was a conservative Christian icon. Before her public support of the gay community came about, her biggest scandal was just how close Kenny Rogers was to her “Islands in the Stream.” Dolly WAS country. She was wholesome. She spoke the same language as the down home southerners of those days except on that one issue. I can tell you that as a “lone gay wolf” in the early 90’s, seeing not only an icon come out in support but a Southern icon come out in support was short of a miracle to a girl like me, because she was one of “them.” Dolly was hope.
So what do you think happened when Dolly publicly acknowledged that she fully supported her LGBT fans and the LGBT community as a whole? Well, she was ridiculed, of course. She was accused of being gay herself (she said if she was she would come out of the closet just a-flyin’) She was accused of having a sham marriage with her husband of many years. She was harassed. Her life was threatened. She was denounced by many Christians who trashed her commitment to her Christian faith which is something she has always held dear. She lost respect, followers, money and personal safety but she held fast to her position. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. In fact, as a person who has never suffered personal death threats or harassment for my sexuality, I could say Dolly has suffered more than I have over our roles in the gay community.
Her support didn’t stop with merely speaking out. Dolly also issued public statements imploring conservative Christians to stop the judgment and accept members of LGBT community with love. She publicly stepped out for gay marriage before it was even on the ballot. She hosted an inclusive day for LGBT families at her Dollywood Theme Park and lost many loyal conservative visitors. She issued public apologies to a gay couple who experienced discrimination at her Splash Country Water Park. She received death threats again when she wrote a song called “Travelin’ Thru” for the film “Transamerica”, which is a film to spread awareness about the transgender community.
So now that Dolly has decided not to cancel her performance in Greensboro, some of the very LGBT people she has supported for years have turned their backs on her. Their comments and name-calling remind me of the behavior of the conservatives all these years as she faithfully stood behind us and encouraged others to do the same. Who knows her real reason behind going ahead with her tour. She stated in the article that she felt some issues were better addressed from the stage and that she would be sure to use her platform to express her opinion, which will no doubt be in support of the gay and transgender community. Meanwhile, critics of her decision are touting their anger from their Apple devices, which are still being faithfully shipped to customers in Raleigh. They are sitting in the drive-through at Starbucks, a company who is still percolating in Winston-Salem.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Southerner, because I love her music or because I am fiercely loyal to those who were there from the beginning, but Dolly still has my love and support. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gestures of Springsteen and the others. I do. They are making a loud statement of their own by sacrificing ticket sales to show their support. But when Dolly began supporting us, it was a death wish. Today, the risk factor is much lower. It’s almost expected for stars to be in support of the LGBT community. The old and hateful crowd that avenged Dolly’s alliance is starting to die off. She isn’t a spring chicken herself, but she is a pioneer. She supported many of us when we couldn’t show support for ourselves. Because of that, Dolly, I will always love you.