The country icon opened up about her close bond with childhood friend Judy Ogle in a new interview
In a new interview with The Sun, the Nashville legend denied that she is a lesbian while expressing her support for the LGBTQ community.
“So people say that — because you can’t really have a great relationship with a woman. I’m not gay but I have so many gay friends and I accept everybody for who they are,” Parton, 73, told the U.K. newspaper.
As for her title as a gay icon, Parton embraces the role, telling the outlet: “I love that.”
For much of her 50-plus years in the industry, the country queen has been dogged by whispers of her sexuality. Parton has been married to husband Carl Thomas Dean, 76, for nearly 53 years. But her close bond with childhood friend Judy Ogle has come into question over the years.
“Judy and I have been best friends for 64 years, since we were little kids. Our parents knew each other, we grew up together, we were like sisters, became best friends,” Parton said of her friendship with Ogle. “She was very quiet, I was very outgoing. So we made perfect friends. We went all through school together.”
Parton added of Ogle: “She went to the Army when we graduated because she needed the insurance and she needed to help her family and I was trying to make it. As soon as she got out, she came to Nashville and we’ve been together ever since.”
Parton also noted that the gossip doesn’t bother her — but she’s fiercely protective of her friends and family.
“People love to talk — but sometimes that’s your best publicity,” she said. “I don’t care what they say as long as they don’t hurt other people I love.”
Over the past decade, Parton has addressed the gay rumors several times. Regarding Ogle, in 2012 Parton told ABC News: “I love her as much as I love anybody in the whole world, but we’re not romantically involved.” And in a 2014 sit-down with Pride Source, Parton said simply: “I am not gay, but if I were I would be the first one running out of the closet.”
Last fall, the “Jolene” singer opened up to PEOPLE exclusively about her nearly 53-year marriage to Dean.
“My husband and I have a great relationship,” Parton — who just renewed her vows in 2016 — said at the time.
“We’ve been together most of our lives. I always joke and laugh when people ask me what’s the key to my long marriage and lasting love,” Parton added in her PEOPLE cover story. “I always say ‘Stay gone!’ and there’s a lot of truth to that. I travel a lot, but we really enjoy each other when we’re together and the little things we do.”