PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (BP)–Add Dollywood to the theme parks across the country where annual “Gay Days” are being held.
The theme park owned by country singer Dolly Parton in the Smoky Mountains was advertised as the site of “Gay Day at Dollywood” earlier this year. But the May 22 gathering’s name was changed to “Gay Day 2004” when Dollywood officials asked the sponsor, Tri-Cities Pride, to stop using the Dollywood name and remove the trademarked logo from a website promoting the event. A Dollywood spokesman said the park was not trying to stop anyone from attending but was trying to prevent trademark violations.
Ryan Salyer, executive director of the Tri-Cities Pride homosexual group, based in Johnson City, Tenn., encouraged attendees to wear red shirts to identify themselves and to surpass the 1,300 who attended the inaugural gathering last year. “[O]ur hope,” he noted on the group’s website, “is to flood the park with a sea of red shirts.”
This year, on a Saturday when Dollywood attendance might range from 15,000-20,000, red shirts were indeed visible in most every direction but the homosexual turnout was far from massive, perhaps rivaling or falling short of the mark in 2003.
The event is patterned after “Gay Day Orlando,” which began at Disney World 12 years ago and now draws nearly 100,000 people each year.
“The gay community is everywhere,” Salyer told Baptist Press during the Dollywood event. “You could be standing in line somewhere next to a gay person and not know it. You could make an anti-gay remark or a hateful remark and they could be standing right next to you.”
Danny Justice, Salyer’s partner, told Baptist Press the event was “more about a visibility factor. Why we chose red is so people would know we are actually out in numbers.” He went on to explain that he hoped that the display of red shirts would help sensitize people to the homosexual community and lessen intolerant comments. “It is more of a respect issue,” he said.
Ronnie White, director of missions for the Sevier County Baptist Association in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., told Baptist Press he did not know of any Southern Baptists in the community who protested the Gay Day event at Dollywood. He noted there is a Southern Baptist chaplain on site at Dollywood, and he said he is quite sure homosexuals would be welcome in churches in the association.
“As far as our churches are concerned, they love those folks,” White said. “They don’t love their sin, of course.”
White added that he is not sure that demonstrating against something is the best approach because it may tend to alienate those on the other side of the issue.
“I think most all of our churches here — as far as the gay people themselves — I think they would be willing to tell you that they love people, anybody and everybody,” he said. “They would not turn anybody away from their church because of that.
“However, that doesn’t mean that we endorse it. It just means I believe that’s the way God intends for us to look at it — that or any other sin,” White continued. “I think any kind of adultery, fornication — or whatever — is sin just as well as this is, and those are the type of people that need to hear about Jesus.”
The gathering at Dollywood sparked little trouble at the park. One of the lesbian participants was asked to turn her shirt inside out before coming into the park due to its offensive nature, while a man wearing an anti-homosexual statement was asked to change before entering the park. A Dollywood spokesman said the park, according to its mission statement, is operated in a manner consistent with Christian values and ethics.
The Dollywood event followed by two weeks another homosexual gathering in east Tennessee, with about 450 attending a “Gay Day” in Dayton, Tenn., site of the historic Scopes Monkey Trial.
With reporting by Stanley Leary. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SHOPPING, OUT IN NUMBERS, WEARING RED and DECLARING THEIR CHOICE.