Blonde ambition

NEW_Dolly-artwork_highres-rs

Dolly Parton keeps on truckin’ with a new album, a tour — and late-night trips to the Kroger in full Dolly drag

Dolly Parton, the “Queen of Country Music,” reigns on our (gay) parade with her new album Better Day and her concert tour, at the Verizon Theatre Tuesday. Better Day marks her 41st solo album of original material, and she ties Reba McEntire with four No. 1 country singles in four consecutive decades. Parton is far more than a country music star. Even calling her “iconic” seems too small for the larger-than-life persona.
From her humble roots in Tennessee, our “Backwoods Barbie” continues to be a doll to her gay fans. With some rare moments to spare, she talks behind the scenes of her tour and what’s beneath the makeup and glitter.

— Jerry Nunn

Dallas Voice: The first track on Better Day, “In the Mean Time,” is so feisty. What was your motivation for it? Parton: That is one my favorite songs because it sums up what is going on in the world, my attitude about it. Everybody is so down in the dumps and waiting for the end of time instead of doing something about it, enjoying the time they got. This whole album I wanted to write stuff to uplift people and give a positive spin on this negativity.

You’ve performed the first single, “Together You and I” on television, but is there a video in the works? Yes. Trey Fanjoy, who was director of the year at CMT this year, did a wonderful video that shows people from all over the world, love in all forms and fashions — more of a universal love. It is a beautiful video.

What can fans expect from your concerts now? We got all sorts of good things going with the Better Day World Tour. We have a lot of positive stuff in that by doing different things for the fans.

You have a huge gay following and they will always love you. Hey, a big shout out to them! We have fun with my gay crowds. We are going to be in L.A. for two days at the Hollywood Bowl, then in San Francisco. All ready so many of my gay fans have said they are going to be there in the front row. I love it. I have always loved my gay fans. 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!

What is your favorite thing about touring? People, the audience, I love that. I love to travel because I am a gypsy, but I enjoy performing for the fans that love to see it. I have been around so many years, worked so many audiences and had so many types of shows. Since the beginning, it is kind of fun to watch how things have changed. I have fans from little bitty kids now watching Hannah Montana with Aunt Dolly to my older fans and the new ones that have discovered my music. It is a really fun trip for me as you can imagine.

How fabulous is your tour bus? The set up is great. I have traveled on a tour bus since 1967. This current one is an updated, modern version, where there is room. Especially when it has stopped you can let the sides out and have a real home. I don’t stay in hotels so I just live on my bus. I’ve got everything from my kitchen to my televisions, DVDs and books. It’s a way to carry my wigs and my costumes. I am set up good for that.

Are you able to take off the wig and shop at Kroger without people recognizing you? Well, if I went to Kroger I wouldn’t take off my wig. I don’t go grocery shopping too much but when I do it’s usually in the wee hours after midnight. If I really want to cook certain things for a special occasion that I really need and I don’t trust anyone to find it I will go to the store. But I usually dress like myself and go in. I can’t be disguised because if I open my mouth you know it’s me! I sound as different as I look. There is no point in going and embarrassing myself by looking like hell.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Tishomingo’s Shelton sorry for anti-gay tweet

Shortly after GLAAD called on people to Twitter-bomb country music star and The Voice judge Blake Shelton for his homophobic tweet from Wednesday, Shelton took to the social media network this morning to offer an apology, after initially trying to laugh off the criticism. (Note that Shelton’s Twitter account says he lives in Tishomingo, which is just north of the Texas border.)


—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Country star Blake Shelton promotes anti-gay violence; more on Lisa Stone

Blake Shelton

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea.

1. CBS released another excerpt Wednesday night from Sherry Henry’s interview with 48 Hours Mystery, which will air an hourlong episode Saturday about the disappearance of Dallas lesbian Lisa Stone in June 2010. Henry is Stone’s former partner and the only person of interest in the case, and Stone’s friends believe Henry knows something about her disappearance. In the below story that aired on CBS 11 last night, Henry says: “You will not tear down my life. You will not point the finger at me, until you have verifiable proof that I have ever done anything other than support Lisa Stone in whatever she wanted to accomplish in her life. Lisa and I love each other. End of discussion!”

2. The Texas Senate passed a version of the budget Wednesday that would fund anticipated enrollment growth in the Texas HIV Medication Program, which provides lifesaving medication to low-income people with HIV/AIDS. The House’s version of the budget doesn’t fund any enrollment growth in the program, which is expected to amount to about 3,000 new clients over the next two years. It’s now up to a House-Senate conference committee to decide the level of funding for the program — and sort out the rest of the differences between the two budget bills. Overall, the Senate’s budget would spend $12 billion more in state and federal funds than the House’s version. The Senate approved its version of the budget in a 19-12 vote along party lines, after waving a rule that normally requires two-thirds support for bills to reach the floor. All 12 Democrats voted against the Senate budget, saying it cuts too deeply into education and social services. It was not immediately clear whether the Senate budget included an amendment from Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for “family and traditional values.”

3. Blake Shelton, a country music star from Ada, Okla., and a judge on the NBC show The Voice, sent out the above tweet last night which appears to promote anti-gay violence. The tweet follows a homophobic comment Shelton made last month at the ACM Awards, when he suggested that Jake Gyllenhaal broke up with Taylor Swift because he’s gay.

—  John Wright

Chely Wright answers the call

The country music star and out lesbian may be busy with a new album and tour, but she always makes time for her new-found passion for advocating for LGBT equality

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

When Chely Wright came out this summer, the buzz in the music industry was mixed. But as it turned out, she did it at precisely the right time.

Combining her star power with advocacy, Wright has become the face of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and an outspoken advocate for her new-found community. She has stepped up to the plate and used her stature to focus attention on LGBT issues.

The buzz around Wright’s coming out was quickly eclipsed by head-grabbing issues like same-sex marriage rulings, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the rash of gay youth suicides and bullying.

Still, Wright interjected herself into the conversation and people listened, while other gay celebrities were being supportive, but perhaps less vocal. For her efforts, Wright will be awarded the 2010 Media Award at this weekend’s Black Tie Dinner.

“This is what I felt like I was supposed to do, and it would be wrong of me not do this,” Wright said recently of her work in the community.

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold said that Wright was the unanimous choice for the Med Award this year. As the year progressed, Wright’s work with LGBT youth and her public profile narrowed the choices tremendously until she became the decisive choice.

“The breadth of her activity immediately upon coming out was definitely a factor. She faced issues head on and she’s made an incredible impact in reaching Middle America,” Guillard said.

Wright has most recently chosen to become involved in addressing the seemingly skyrocketing rate of bullying and LGBT youth suicides. Her work with GLSEN helped launch the Safe Space Campaign for schools to provide outright support to gay students and end anti-gay harassment and bullying. She joined a panel of celebrities on Larry King Live calling attention to the issue — which she stressed isn’t new.

“What’s going on now is not a shock to me. The problem isn’t a fresh one. It’s just that now, we have the mainstream media’s attention,” Wright said.

She quoted Kathy Griffin from that panel, agreeing with the comedian that bullying is based in homophobia stemming from a bigger picture that paints a distinct portrait to both straight and gay communities. “I hadn’t thought about it until she said

something amazing. She called it ‘trickle-down homophobia,’ where gay issues and headlines meet. DADT is denied, marriage denied and we’re constantly told we’re ‘less than,’” Wright said. “Not only bullies are hearing that, but young gay people are too.”

And that gives LGBT youth a bleak outlook on their future, while at the same time emboldening the bullies, Wright said.

“We can tell people not to bully, but when mandates are coming down against our rights and headlines show that, how can we expect them not to, when Congress is doing it blatantly?” Wright asked.

When she wrote her autobiography Like Me, Wright’s publishers balked at the chapter on hate crimes. She fought Random House for the chapter to be included, despite them telling her it was too dramatic. In the end, Wright won and the chapter, “Hate Crimes are Down?,” foreshadowed the current issue of harassment.

“If you push a young LGBT person to the point where they take their own lives, it’s a hate crime. If you get them to kill themselves, that’s a hate crime. You aren’t connecting dots that are too far apart and now it’s horrific that it’s come to past,” Wright said.

Wright focused on the Rutgers student Tyler Clemente, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge after his roommate recorded him having sex with another man and streamed it online.

Chely Wright
SHE CAN RELATE | Chely Wright says that after spending years hiding her sexual orientation to protect her career in country music, she understands the anguish that young people struggling with their sexual orientation sometimes feel.

Wright said she faced a similar fear of being outed in the middle of her conservative country music career.

“I know what he felt like and it ripped my heart out,” she said of Clemente. “When you don’t want anyone to know that secret, the thought that runs through your mind is to jump, or pull the trigger. I couldn’t bear someone in control of my timeline for that secret,” she said.

Wright has been open about her faith as well, which brings a fairly new facet to the openly gay celebrity. Where most might dismiss religion as a hindrance, Wright seems to want to let people know that being gay and being religious are not mutually exclusive.

But at the same time, she said it is religion that is responsible for so much bigotry.

“Churches are not being held accountable. They tell young people they are damaged goods,” Wright said. “They tell them not to shoplift, which is a question of morality and making the right decision. But when they tell them not to be gay, that sets them onto a path of self-loathing and hatred and it’s contrary to a healthy life.”

Along with GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign, Wright has given her support to the nonprofit organization Faith in America, which works to counteract the discrimination by religious communities toward the LGBT community.

“When you tell a kid he can’t be that way, it’s just a problem. We have got to hold churches accountable,” Wright repeated. “Really, you can be a good Christian and a gay person,” she said.

Arnold sees how Wright’s passion led to the board’s decision to honor her with the award.

“She is setting a wonderful example for people of all ages right now in this critical time. She’s appreciated the community and we appreciate what she’s doing for it,” Arnold said.

With her political advocacy, it’s easy to forget what Wright does best. She is still making music, but now balances what she loves to do and what she’s called to do.

“At the root of what I do, I like to sing and make records,” Wright said. “But we do the most damage as humans with words. And I’m compelled to support kids as they turn into grownups and help them keep their heads on straight.”

So to speak.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

A brand new Technicolor life

Country singer Chely Wright, announced this week as BTD’s 2010 Media Award winner, says coming out freed her

RELATED STORY: Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin named keynote speaker

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

“Dallas has been a great market for me,” says Chely Wright.

Truer words might have never been spoken.

The country music star spoke highly of the city when referring to her past concerts here, but she’ll be heading to Dallas this year for a different reason — one that will reinforce her confidence in this city.

Officials with the Black Tie Dinner this week announced that Wright has been chosen to receive the 2010 Media Award during the annual fundraising gala set for Nov. 6.

They also announced that U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the openly lesbian Democrat from Wisconsin, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner.

When Wright came out of the closet in May with her biography, “Like Me,”  the media storm hit full force. She was touted as the first modern country singer to come out of thecloset, and her life story landed her on the cover of People magazine and Oprah.

As the recipient of the Black Tie Media Award, Wright sees it as a step in her reasoning to come out.

“This is noteworthy to be receiving this incredible honor,” she said. “I find it really interesting that this one thing I tried so hard to hide has really set me free. I’ve not only found this gay community but also activist, advocate and civil-minded communities. These are incredible people to be applauded.”

But not only was she setting herself free by coming out, Wright knew that since she was such a public figure, her coming out would facilitate dialogue and education.

Her announcement eclipsed her current album, “Lifted Off the Ground,” and even her career for the past 15 years. But she said she was prepared for that, because it was bigger than just a CD.

“The specific reason I did this in such a grand, comprehensive way was because I was aware this would be discussed,” she said. “As celebrities, we must be aware of our public capital in the community, and there had never been a commercial country artist who acknowledged being gay.

“That’s why I wrote a book, knowing that it was incumbent upon me to do so,” she said.

Along with all that attention came the backlash from both her audiences and the country music industry — no surprise considering it comprises a largely conservative demographic.

Wright said she knew there would be a negative reaction that could possibly put her into “Dixie Chicks vs. Texas” territory. But, she said, the good has outweighed the bad so far.

“I’m aware there are negative comments. No matter what you do, people will hate. On my social networks, we don’t leave them out unless they are overly caustic. We allow that dialogue to happen.

“But I think some of my fans never knew a gay person and thought they were all deviants,” she added. “They see this isn’t the case. Those people are the moveable middle.”

Wright mentions she even received support locally, saying KSCS on-air personality Chris Huff reached out to her after she came out.

To her, that was a step many people in the country music industry are either reluctant to take, or maybe do so quietly.

“Just judging from everything she said and her experiences and the emotions she fought, I think it was a really strong thing that she did,” Huff said. “I can’t imagine what she must’ve gone through the years leading up to that.”

Huff did what, according to Wright, not many have done in her industry. People have reached out to her, but only privately. She said public declarations of support by those in country music are hard to come by.

“Huff was one of the first to e-mail me after coming out.  The industry has a lot of really progressive people, but there are a lot of folks who just reach out privately. All of country music is not homophobic, but people don’t feel like that they can say ‘I’m behind you.’”

So instead, Wright is focusing on the positive support, which she has received from other LGBT celebrities, like Rosie O’Donnell and Lance Bass, and from the fans still coming to get her autograph. She’s even relishing the Prop 8 decision from her West Hollywood home.

But ultimately, she says, she feels simply free.

“Imagine a tiny secret being a big one and have it chasing you around, and you’re afraid. Then, it’s gone. It feels like I’ve retired an 80-hour-a-week job at a factory. There is so much emotional free space.

“I think my life felt like black and white before and now it’s in Technicolor.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens