Did Dollywood Discriminate Against a Lesbian Couple?
BY Jeremy Kinser
July 20 2011 1:30 PM ET
A host at the front gate of Dollywood's Splash Country amusement park ordered a lesbian to take off her T-shirt that read "Marriage Is So Gay" and turn it inside out or be denied entrance, reports WBIR-TV of Knoxville, Tenn.
The Advocate spoke with Pete Owens, media/public relations manager for the Dollywood Co., who stated that he was unaware of the incident until Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern, when a local NBC affiliate contacted the park's rep after receiving an email that was simultaneously sent to both. Owens says the employee who was working the front gate who had the interaction with Olivier Odom and Jennifer Tipton "was unaware there was any issue."
Owens says that "thousands of times a day our front gate hosts are asked to enforce our dress code policy. It doesn’t have anything to do with who the people are or what their belief system is or with anything other than the fact that we try to prevent as best as we can upon entry of the park one of our guests being offended by something someone else is wearing."
Owens adds that when there is a problem with a patron's attire, they are always given the option of turning their shirt inside out. "If they don’t have a shirt, as an example if they’re wearing a tank top and they have a tattoo that happens to be brought into question with our dress code policy, we’ll offer them alternative apparel," Owens says. "We’ll purchase a shirt for them and provide it for them."
Owens says he plans to speak with the two women. "I think this is a misunderstanding, and I’m sorry there’s a misunderstanding, but we will talk to the couple that was affected rather than discuss it with the media," Owens says.
Previously: Olivier Odom and Jennifer Tipton took the children of a friend to the Tennessee theme park a couple of weeks ago, but when the gatekeeper noticed Odom's T-shirt, the sales of which raise money and awareness for marriage equality, the couple and the children were stopped at the entrance.
"I was in disbelief," Odom says."I didn't think it was the policy of Dollywood to discriminate against the LGBT community." She continues, "I was curious what he found offensive about the shirt. If it was the fact that it had the word gay on it or that it was in conjunction with the word marriage." Odom says she noticed patrons with tattoos she deems offensive as well as rebel flags.
Odom followed the gatekeeper's instruction and turned her shirt inside out so the children's day would not be ruined, but she hopes the incident will lead to changes in Dollywood policy.
A spokesperson for Dollywood said it's the park's policy for the gatekeepers to make decisions about how to enforce the dress code for the thousands of patrons. The intention is to prevent any other patrons from being offended, and park officials haven't had the opportunity to review this case.
Parton has not commented, but she has been a longtime advocate for equality. She recently gave an interview to the gay newspaper Dallas Voice, in which she addressed her LGBT fan base. "I have always loved my gay fans," she says."They accept me and I accept them. We get along just fine. I am very proud and honored when they dress up like me or whatever they want to do!"
Watch a news report of the incident below.