Dolly Parton | Gay Iconography

Gay Iconography: Why We Will Always Love Dolly Parton


I can't even attempt to feign objectivity when talking about Dolly Parton. She is undoubtedly an icon, a superstar and an American treasure. Beyond the sequins, hair and makeup, she's one of the most extraordinarily talented musicians of all time. Her catalog is overflowing with some of the best-written songs in history. (The cantankerous Internet commenter who can't appreciate "Jolene" because he "doesn't like country music," needs to recognize that he may, in fact, just not like music.) She's been nominated for a Tony award, two Academy awards and 46 Grammy awards (tying her with Beyoncé for the most Grammy nominations by any female artist). Her musical contributions aside, there's still plenty of reasons why she's so beloved by the gay community.

From her humble roots growing up as one of 12 children in a one-room cabin in Tennessee, she's developed a legendary look and larger-than-life personality that's endeared her to generations of fans, gay and straight. Modeling her over-the-top appearance after the town tramp she admired as a child, her definition of glamour may not be for everyone. Go ahead and laugh, though. She certainly does. Parton famously jokes, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!"

Even if you're not one to go ga-ga over rhinestones and wigs, Parton's commitment to being herself, no matter what anyone thinks, is an interesting parallel to the gay experience. She told earlier this month: "I do believe that I have a lot of gay fans because I think they do accept me as I am - the differences in me - and I think they know that I see that and love that in everybody else."

She's been vocal in her support of the LGBT community for years, including appearances on Larry King Live and in an interview with The Daily Mail, where she underscored her belief in marriage equality with her signature humor: "[Gay couples] should suffer just like us heterosexuals." There's a small blemish on her LGBT record, a dust-up at Dollywood over a marriage equality T-shirt, but she apologized for the misunderstanding. (While we're on the subject, how many folks you know have their own theme park?) Hey lyrics often include messages of acceptance and tolerance, including “Family,” in which she sings: “Some are preachers, some are gay/Some are addicts, drunks and strays/But not a one is turned away, when it's family”

We can barely scratch the surface on Dolly's life and work in this space, but we'll do our best to contain our excitement with some of our favorite Dolly clips, AFTER THE JUMP


Dolly got her big break performing regularly with Porter Wagoner on his weekly syndicated television show. She wrote "I Will Always Love You" about their professional separation in the early 1970s. (There's an episode of Drunk History, with Happy Endings' Casey Wilson as Dolly Parton, that hilariously recounts what happened after their split. See the uncensored clip here.) Since going solo, Dolly has collaborated with many other artists, including Boy George, Nickel Creek and most famously, Kenny Rogers on "Islands In the Stream." She also released two albums with Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris (as Trio), as well as 1993's Honky Tonk Angels with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.


Her aesthetic is the butt of many jokes (mostly her own), however, she's a seriously incredible songwriter. "Jolene" may be the most famous Other Woman in music history, but it's Parton's personal favorite song, "Coat of Many Colors," that's been added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry for being “historically, culturally or aesthetically significant.” So many of her songs tell incredible stories, with stand-outs like "Down From Dover," "Daddy's Moonshine Still," and "My Tennessee Mountain Home."


Though mostly considered a country artist, Dolly has had plenty of cross-over into pop. "Here You Come Again" was her first single to reach the top ten on the pop charts. "Starting Over Again," "Heartbreaker" and "Baby I'm Burning" also made the Top 40.


Parton has left her mark on movies as well. Her film credits include the classic Steel Magnolias, so-bad-it’s-good Rhinestone and, most recently, Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah. However, it’s 9 To 5 that’s most adored by audiences. The film’s titular song -- for which Parton wrote the rhythm by rubbing her acrylic nails together -- topped Billboard’s Hot Country, Adult Contemporary and Hot 100 charts. It also earned her an Academy Award nomination. (She received her second Oscar nom for “Travelin’ Thru” from Transamerica.) Additionally, she was recognized with a Tony award nomination in 2009 for writing 9 To 5: The Musical's original score.


The power of Parton’s appeal also lies in her special brand of aw-shucks positivity. One of her famous Dollyisms is “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain!” That attitude comes through on songs like “Better Get To Livin’” and “Together You And I,” but there’s almost no better cure for the blues than “Two Doors Down.”

Which Dolly moments do you hold most dear? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Hell Yeah!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by: Lazycrockett | May 17, 2014 3:15:08 PM

  2. I'll take her emotional driven "I will always love you" over the over the top emotionless Houston's any day.

    Posted by: Lazycrockett | May 17, 2014 3:17:21 PM

  3. All hail the Queen!

    Posted by: NotSafeForWork | May 17, 2014 3:20:39 PM

  4. But she's not a GAY icon. Not even remotely.

    Posted by: WHY? | May 17, 2014 3:41:13 PM

  5. Dolly is a doll.

    Posted by: Matt27 | May 17, 2014 3:41:21 PM

  6. Check out Dolly's Little Sparrow CD, it is AMAZING.

    Posted by: Mark | May 17, 2014 3:51:15 PM

  7. HELLO Dolly!!!

    Posted by: David From Canada | May 17, 2014 4:01:52 PM

  8. @Mark all three of her bluegrass albums she did from 1999 to 2001 are amazing.

    Posted by: Lazycrockett | May 17, 2014 4:02:17 PM

  9. I've been to Dollywood many times, and, while I love the rides and the food (y'all I'm from the south, too, don't make fun) the best feature is the Dolly Parton museum. They have a replica of the cabin she grew up in and, no lie, the ACTUAL "coat of many colors" that her momma made for her when she was little!!

    Posted by: L'Herb | May 17, 2014 4:15:42 PM

  10. Love "Two Doors Down" and "Islands in the Stream" Was raised by West Virginia father, and New England Puritan mother. Know all the country greats. Favorite was Tammy of course.

    Posted by: GEB | May 17, 2014 4:37:13 PM

  11. Dolly Parton has hardly been a great supporter of homosexual equality. Love her for her songs but don't go overboard and call her an icon of gays. Some gay men idolize her out of guilt.

    Posted by: petey | May 17, 2014 4:38:37 PM

  12. What exactly does a supporter of gays have to do? She's an entertainer.

    Posted by: GEB | May 17, 2014 4:45:10 PM

  13. "Some are preachers, some are gay/Some are addicts, drunks and strays"

    Excuse me if I don't see this as a positive portrayal.

    Preachers are the lowest form of life.

    Posted by: Randy | May 17, 2014 5:12:18 PM

  14. Love her. Her duet 'Creepin' In,' with Norah Jones is also swell, and her version of 'Stairway To Heaven' was given the thumbs up by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

    Posted by: antisaint | May 17, 2014 5:17:45 PM

  15. My favorite Dolly remark: when asked whether she was offended when people tell dumb blonde jokes, she said, "No. First of all, I know I'm not dumb. And second, I know I'm not a blonde." Classic.

    Posted by: shawnp | May 17, 2014 5:23:24 PM

  16. I met her years ago on a flight -- she was as gracious as you could possibly imagine.

    Posted by: Bob K | May 17, 2014 6:12:13 PM

  17. For those who missed it:

    Dolly's friend from 9 to 5, Lily Tomplin is GAY.

    Boy George who she sang a duet with is GAY.

    Her co-star in Joyful Noise, Queen Latifah is (allegedly) GAY.

    She wrote the Oscar nominated song "Travelin' Thru" for the movie Transamerica" a movie about Transgender acceptance, because she has a close several decades long friendship with a transgendered man in her employee and she knew how much the film could do for transgender acceptance.

    Dolly receives daily death threats for writing that song.

    She has only said positive things about the LGBTQ community for her entire career, and is regularly asked in interviews about her gay fans and shows her great support in those interviews to our community. Which is seen and heard by many homophobes out there---which helps reach people and to change minds.

    She is a Gay icon.

    Posted by: Go Dolly | May 17, 2014 6:30:16 PM

  18. I LOVE Dolly Parton. I'm not a country music fan. I like a little of it, but not that much. (My taste runs more towards classic pop and classical/opera.) But who could not love Dolly! She's smart, savvy and sassy. How could you not love someone who says things like "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap." Or better once when Katie Couric told Dolly that she liked her hair, Dolly told Katie that she could borrow it sometime if she liked. That's hilarious. Check out the SNL that she hosted. Or 9 to 5. The women IS talent. She reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote: "Give a man a mas and he'll tell you the truth." Dolly is free to say and do things that are incredibly honest and frank because she can hide behind all that make-up, the rhinestones and all that fake hair. Jolene is a great song. I will always love you was a classic before Whitney Houston (whose version IS shows what happens when you match a great singer and a great Aretha Franklin's cover of "You make me feel like a natural woman".) Anyway, I love Dolly and find it difficult to imagine how anyone doesn't. Also, of course she loves gay people. For all practical purposes she IS a drag queen!

    Posted by: Houndentenor | May 17, 2014 6:49:36 PM

  19. Go Dolly,

    Saying things is not the same as doing things. A true gay icon should have the balls to support full equality for homosexual men by marching alongside them and holding a banner. PR statements aren't enough.

    Posted by: petey | May 17, 2014 6:49:52 PM

  20. Dolly is a rouge & rhinestone spackled ANGEL.

    Posted by: Ian | May 17, 2014 7:50:24 PM

  21. @GoDolly: Donald Sterling screwed Blatinas.

    But he's still a racist and a misogynist.

    Posted by: Facts Is Facts | May 17, 2014 8:47:57 PM

  22. Dolly IS a gay icon. She's on par with Cher and Bette Midler, coming to prominence in the gay community at the same time as they did. (Some of the thoughts that she's not an icon could just be generational. There was a time by the 1980s that the "young gays" saw Dolly, Cher, and Bette as the new gay icons and didn't think Judy Garland or Joan Crawford were icons any longer. So the same thing could be happening now with "young gays" who didn't see Dolly in her heyday of the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s so they don't see her as an icon any longer.)

    On action versus words, there are several actions she's taken, although she doesn't often publicize them, which may be why some are unaware of them.

    The first action was verbal, though -- in the early-to-mid 1980s she became the first country artist to publicly state her support for gay rights -- something that at that time could have costed most artists their career in country music.

    In the mid-1980s, she and manager Sandy Gallin created Sandollar Productions. Since both had lost several friends to AIDS, one of the first productions she championed and greenlghted was Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt, literally one of the first five or six film projects about the AIDS crisis. When it was released in 1989, it won a Peabody Award for Journalism and Academy Award for Best Documentary.

    She went on to be a founding donor of the Project Angel Food AIDS charity in Los Angeles and Colin Higgins Foundation for gay youth in New York.

    She contributed a song to the Red Hot & Country AIDS fundraising album in 1994.

    In 2002, she became one of the first mainstream country artists to endorse marriage equality, some two years before it was legal in any U.S. state.

    In 2005, she contributed a song, "Sugar Hill," to the Human Rights Campaign fundraising CD for marriage equality, "Love Rocks" (which also included fellow country artists Emmylou Harris and The Dixie Chicks).

    Two or three times a year, she hosts a breakfast at Dollywood for the terminally ill with the Make A Wish Foundation. Almost all of the attendees are children, but there are a handful of adults each year, primarily cancer patients and end-stage AIDS patients whose dying wish to meet her she grants.

    When her longtime designer Tony Chase was dying of AIDS, she moved him close to her so she could help take care of him in his last months, and she paid for his medical care.

    A few family members of hers are openly LGBT, and some are LGBT but closeted. Several of her close employees are LGBT. (It was already mentioned by someone else how she jumped at the chance of writing the song "Travelin' Thru" in tribute to her trans employee, and that earned her an Oscar nomination and a series of death threats.)

    While she hasn't marched in a gay pride parade, in recent years she has participated in the GLAAD Media Awards and OUT Music Awards.

    And when some fans organized a "gay days" at Dollywood and the Ku Klux Klan protested, she defended her fans' right to assemble at the theme park, saying if it came to a choice of not allowing gay people to attend she would shut the park down before she turned anyone away for being gay.

    Those are just a handful of examples. There are others. Hope I've educated those who incorrectly thought she hasn't taken any actions to support our community.

    Posted by: Dolly Fan | May 17, 2014 9:19:51 PM

  23. When asked if she had an affair with Burt Reynolds: "Aww, they say you sleep with everyone you work with. And you do, with some of them, you just don't say which ones."

    When asked if she would ever run for public office: "Don't you think there's enough boobs in Congress already?"

    When asked about the rumors she didn't like Whitney's version of her song: "I think of my songs as my children. I expect them to support me when I get old."

    Gotta love Dolly!

    Posted by: Chadd | May 17, 2014 9:57:35 PM

  24. She was on the TODAY last week and sang perfectly... I mean, perfectly! All these years later she still looks and sounds fantastic if not better.

    Whether you can appreciate her music or not, ya gotta love the woman.

    Posted by: pete n sfo | May 17, 2014 11:17:09 PM

  25. I remember when she did a cover version of Peace Train in the mid 90s that was a huge hit in gay clubs, and Dolly posed on the cover of OUT magazine.

    She even said that if she was born a man, she would have still dressed the way she does.

    She runs a charity that gives free books to children so they can learn the joy of reading.

    Gay icon, singer, actress, philanthropist... Dolly is just an amazing person, period.

    Posted by: FuryOfFirestorm | May 18, 2014 1:09:11 AM

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