Lesbians Face Discrimination in Dollywood, a Vermont Inn and a SF Gertrude Stein Exhibit

Earlier, we told you about the unexpected pleasure of finding allies in surprising places, like the Republican party or the political machine of the state of Utah. Unfortunately, today’s story is like the photo negative of that situation: this week, several lesbian couples and/or families have found themselves subjected to homophobia and discrimination in some of the last places you’d guess.

First, there’s Kate Baker and Ming Linsley, who were thrown off in the process of planning their (legally valid) Vermont wedding when the inn that they wanted to host it at refused to “host gay receptions at our facility.”

The current lawsuit alleges that in October Ms. Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, spoke with the events coordinator at [the Wilflower Inn], which has 24 rooms and is on 570 acres in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, according to its Web site. Ms. Peters said the coordinator referred to a bride and a groom while discussing the bridal suite; Ms. Peters said she corrected the woman and they continued their conversation. Shortly after the conversation, Ms. Peters received an e-mail with the subject line “bad news,” according to the lawsuit, and was told the innkeepers did not allow same-sex wedding receptions at the site. “After our conversation,” the e-mail reads, according to the lawsuit, “I checked with my innkeepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility.”

Vermont has had civil unions for gay couples since 2000, and legal same-sex marriage since 2009. While it does have a Republican population, it also boasts anti-discrimination laws around sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression to cover discrimination in public places, schools, colleges, shops, and in employment. It even allows for joint adoption and second-parent adoption by same-sex couples, putting it within the upper echelon of Most Gay-Friendly States. So it’s understandable that Linsley and Baker would be shocked by this development. They’ve managed to book their wedding elsewhere in Vermont, and are now pursuing a lawsuit against the Wildflower Inn, the owners of which have refused to comment.

Another place you’d never expect to encounter homophobia is Dollywood, the theme park utopia of one of the entertainment industry’s most gay-friendly icons. Gay rights is one of the only political issues Parton speaks on, but she’s very vocal about it, and has vociferously supported marriage equality. She also made a surprise appearance at this year’s GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles.

So when Olivier Odom, Jennifer Tipton and their children went to visit Dollywood for the day, they were shocked that the entrance guard asked Odom to change her shirt, which declared “Marriage Is So Gay.”

Odom spoke with the Campaign for Southern Equality, who advised her to write a letter of complaint to Dollywood: “To ensure that your customers are not treated this way in the future, I would like to see Dollywood: implement policies that are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; conduct staff sensitivity training; and issue a public statement indicating that the park is inclusive of all families.” Dollywood officials have said that while they have not yet reviewed the case of the entrance guard, they plan to contact the couple about their complaint.

Lastly and perhaps most ironically, there’s this gem: the lesbian couple who was reprimanded for holding hands in a Gertrude Stein exhibit. Gertrude Stein was one of the earliest lesbian icons in America, and wrote one of the earliest (although hard to find) coming out stories in the form of a tract called Q.E.D. written in 1903 and published in 1950 as Things as They Are, as well as the essay “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” and contains what may be the first published use of the word “gay” to refer to homosexual orientation. She died in 1946, almost 30 years before Stonewall. So, for context: it was in an exhibit about this woman’s life at the Contemporary Jewish Museum that a lesbian couple were forbidden to HOLD HANDS. Luckily, the response was fairly satisfying:

This, of course, incited a fury. The couple began arguing with the guard. Soon a crowd formed. The guard tried to get rid of them due to the attention and noise he was now attracting. The women went further, saying, “No we are not leaving and we want to talk to somebody in authority right now.”

The museum claims no responsibility for the incident, explaining that the guards aren’t directly employed by the museum and that the one in question has been “reprimanded.” One can only imagine what Gertrude Stein would have had to say.

In conclusion, we are reminded that no matter how many steps we’ve taken forward, we still sometimes take a few steps back. But also that our community knows how to take care of itself – all of these troubling reports of discrimination end in the victims standing up for themselves and holding the parties responsible accountable. And while that’s not the same kind of heartwarming as as stories about people driven by compassion and goodwill to experience a spontaneous change of heart around gay issues, like Republican Jeff Angelo, it’s still what progress looks like.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. About the “Marriage is Gay” t-shirt: I’ve heard from a few LGBT folk who object to that particular slogan on the grounds that it actually has the potential to reinforce the use of the “___ is (so) gay” expression in other, less positive contexts. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree. And I’m not saying that this was necessarily the Dollywood guard’s reasoning. I’m not really sure what exactly I’m saying, actually. I guess I’m just saying.

  2. I started to read this article for, you know, news, but I ended up just thinking about how badly I want to visit Dollywood?

  3. I think the VT story, as well as the others, is so disappointing and a bit shocking. I tend to view the Northeast, where I live, as 100% liberal. Stories like this remind me that New England is not perfect. Too bad.

    The VT inn has links to reviews, where a gay couple (gender unknown and probably irrelevant) stated that they felt the staff was homophobic. Then someone who is listed as the owner refutes the story saying they are not homophobic, he has gay friends, and they have gay staff members. Interesting…

    I also find it amazing that the staff member chose to inform the mother of one of the brides of the policy via EMAIL! In writing?!?! She said she couldn’t tell her this fact over the phone! What?! Makes me wonder if the staff member was trying to expose the owner’s bigotry. I mean, seriously, who would put it in writing rather than say it. Written proof makes it harder to refute.

  4. everytime i hear gertrude stein’s name, my head starts singing “la vie boheme” from rent.

    well, the line with her name in it. but, it made me feel better about bad people, because you can’t be in a bad mood while singing that song.

  5. Dollywood has never seem the place to wave a pride flag around to me. It just screams “We some nice people, but we don’t accept homos!” to me.

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  7. As a former VT resident, I’m here to tell you that the NEK (NorthEast Kingdom) does not mess around. It’s rather conservative and I’m in the least surprise that this should happen there.

  8. I have been to Dollywood many times and I have seen many men and women with derogatory shirts and tattoos, that is more offensive than a pro gay marriage t-shirt. And I don’t see anybody complaining about the 12 year old girls running around with their asses hanging out. It is ridiculous to go up to someone at a place that is meant for fun and be discriminatory towards them. This just goes to show how messed up things still are.

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