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The Consequences could be Sevier: Anti-Gay Politics in East Tennessee

Sevier County, Tennessee made national news this week. But it wasn’t because Ms. Parton was announcing the newest ride at Dollywood or because the Gatlinburg tourism office wanted to show how business has picked up since the wildfires. Instead, a hearing of the Sevier County Commission on voting to name Sevier County a “gun sanctuary” committee (a topic for another post) got national attention when a commissioner named Warren Hurst chewed his toothpick into history with the words, “We got a queer running for president, if that ain’t about as ugly as you can get.” These comments sparked an avalanche of outcry from officials within the county as well as some residents and tourists. See Hurst’s comments on video here. Hurst’s comments build on recent comments from a retiring Knox County Sheriff’s Officer and begs the question of how safe East Tennessee is for LGBT+ people. But the controversy does not end there.


I Am A Rainbow - Penguin Random House

Sevier County is known as a tourist destination as well as for being hometown to icon Dolly Parton well known for philanthropic efforts related to children’s literacy and economic development. Source:

In addition to Hurst’s comments deemed homophobic, the commissioner went to say that “I’m not prejudiced, a white male in this country has very few rights and they’re getting took more every day,” comments that sparked further condemnation and discussions of what exactly is the (straight) white man’s burden in America? For answers, we head to Social Studio to get a better sense of what people are saying about Hurst and the controversy engulfing a county whose economy was powered by $2 billion in tourism dollars in 2018.


Top words from related search from the source of Social Studio.

Without being to drill down to the county level, it is very clear that the Hurst controversy has taken on a life of its own as a national conversation. One twitter user asked, “Can someone ask Warren Hurst & his agreeing commissioners what he/they/MEN have lost? Slaves? Male only workplaces? Lynching? Hate Crimes?” Another user stated “‘The white man has very few rights’ He says this as he sits on his ass having the freedom of being disgustingly homophobic and racist in front of his community… in a place of power. Yes… very few rights. Sevier County needs┬áto call for his resignation.” Still another called on Al Gore to put pressure on the county government to remove Hurst from his position.

But not everyone opposed Hurst’s point of view. For one, the video footage shows fellow commissioners laughing over and audience members applauding at Hurst’s comments. Some commentators took a more nuanced approach with one stating that, “Say what you want, but this is how a certain demographic honestly feels… As absurd as it is for everyone else living in America to hear, this is that demographics genuine feeling. Hence.. here we are.” Another user went even further in criticism of those criticizing Commissioner Hurst stating, “Keep your Yankee imperialism to yourself. Dixie is the Bible Belt, and we don’t accept your globalist agenda here.”

Each of these tweets represent a very very small sample of what users are saying around this topic. It is too early to see if Sevier County will see any noticeable repercussions in their tourism based on these comments. In the meantime, staff at the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center continue to follow these and other national stories. If you want to learn more about how to mine sentiments or top words for specific tweet responses, contact the center today!