There's a lot wrong in America, but Dolly Parton is not one of them. The country music superstar — who rose to fame in 1967 with her sardonic hit "Dumb Blonde" — remains at the top of her folksy, warm, hilarious, self-deprecating game. Parton's latest project is the soundtrack to the body-positive, beauty queen comedy Dumplin', starring Jennifer Aniston and Danielle Macdonald. With Dumplin' out now on Netflix and in select theaters, let's revisit why Dolly is not only an American legend, but also an enduring queer icon.
Rumors long persisted that Parton entered a West Hollywood Dolly drag contest — and lost. Dolly confirmed the story in a Good Morning America interview nine years ago. "True or false," Roberts said. "You once lost a Dolly Parton lookalike contest."
"True," Parton said. "At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard where all the guys were dressed up like me and I just overexaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage. … I didn't win. I didn't even come in close, I don't think."
Dolly spoke lovingly of her queer fans in a 2014 interview with Billboard, but added that those who criticize and judge LGBTQ people are committing their own kind of sin. "[Dollywood is] a place for entertainment, a place for all families, period. It's for all that. But as far as the Christians, if people want to pass judgment, they're already sinning. The sin of judging is just as bad as any other sin they might say somebody else is committing. I try to love everybody."
Dolly's hit 1991 album Eagle When She Flies features the memorable song, "Family." Though the lyrics wouldn't quite fit in 2018, they were very progressive back then: "Some are preachers / some are gay / some are addicts, drunks and strays / But not a one is turned away when it's family." The song is still performed in one of the revues at Dollywood, the star's legendary Tennessee amusement park.
Back in 2011, a young woman at one of Dolly's Tennessee amusement parks was forced to turn her pro-marriage equality T-shirt inside-out, ostensibly to avoid stirring the pot among visitors. Dolly responded swiftly to the incident and the controversy that followed: “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.”
A revealing 2016 interview with The New York Times featured Dolly once again speaking warmly of her gay fanbase ("I have a huge gay following, and I’m proud of them. Sometimes some of them look more like me than I do."), as well as powerful women, including the first female nominee for president: "Hillary might make as good a president as anybody ever has... I personally think a woman would do a great job. I think Hillary’s very qualified. So if she gets it, I’ll certainly be behind her."
The 2005 movie Transamerica chronicled a trans woman's journey to self-love, and a reunion with the son she didn't know she had. The small film, which starred Felicity Huffman, was ahead of its time (although problematic for casting a cisgender woman as trans). It was rewarded with numerous award nominations — one being an Academy Award nom for best song, Dolly's own "Travelin' Thru." The lovely ditty became an anthem of transformation and bravery, and it endeared us even more to Dolly; a country star willing to write and contribute a song to a trans-themed film. Though the song didn't win the Oscar, Dolly's performance at the 2006 Academy Awards was unforgettable (from "Dollywood" to "Hollywood"!):
The issue of anti-transgender bathroom bans, where transgender people are not allowed to use restrooms that align with their gender identity, was broached with Dolly recently. Of the bans, Dolly said to CNN Money in 2016: "I think everybody should be treated with respect. I don’t judge people and I try not to get too caught up in the controversy of things. I hope that everybody gets a chance to be who and what they are. I just know, if I have to pee, I’m gon’ pee, wherever it’s got to be."
Dolly backed U.S. marriage equality as early as 2009. Then, just last year, the musician stuck her neck out for same-sex couples in Australia who were fighting for the right to legally wed. Dolly advocated her support for the LGBTQ community Down Under on News Breakfast, a program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which she joined remotely from Nashville.
"Why can't they be as miserable as us heterosexuals in their marriages?" Parton joked, before taking a serious tone. "Hey, I think love is love and we have no control over that... I think people should be allowed to [marry]. I'm not God, you know. I believe in God, I think God is the judge. I don't judge or criticize and I don't think we're supposed to."