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In 2003, Ryan Salyer founded what was then called Gay Day at Dollywood. But after brushes with the Tennessee park's lawyers, who threatened to sue for trademark infringement; a protest by the Ku Klux Klan; and dwindling attendance (the 2008 number of LGBT participants was less than half of the event?s record of around 3,000), Salyer has called it quits. There will be no gay Out in the Park event at Dollywood in 2009.
"I did everything myself, and after dealing with the police, the lawyers, and the Klan's death threats, it all just became too much," Salyer, who has moved to Nashville and gone on to found the Middle Tennessee Bear Alliance, told The Out Traveler.
"Dollywood isn?t like Disney World. If you wear a T-shirt with a gay slogan on it, they make you turn it inside out."
Dollywood, an approximately 130-acre theme park in Pigeon Forge near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is operated in "a manner consistent with Christian values and ethics," according to its mission statement. At the park a Christian store sells Jesus T-shirts and biblical memorabilia, visitors wander through a replica of an old country church, and gospel tunes can be heard from the various stages. Needless to say, holding such a publicly gay event in the Bible Belt is not the same as in Orlando or Anaheim.
Dolly herself has never made a public statement about the gay events at her park but has gone on record as being supportive of LGBT folk. Beyond admitting she has lots of gay and lesbian friends and gay folk in her family, Parton has said: "I've always been a freak and different, oddball even in my childhood and my own family, so I can relate to people who are struggling and trying to find their true identity. I do not sit in the seat of judgment?. I love people for who they are. We're all God's children."