THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0518 -- Pictured: Musical guest Dolly Parton performs on August 23, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Andrew Lipovsky—NBC—NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
By Karen Mizoguchi/People
August 31, 2016

Country legend Dolly Parton is speaking out about her love for the LGBT community and fans.

Growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Parton said her first introduction to the gay community was unknowingly through her family.

“I didn’t know they were at the time!” she said to Pride Source with a laugh. “We were just mountain people, and I did not know at that time – I sure did not.”

“In my early days we did not know (what gay was). It didn’t take me long to know that people were different and that was always fine with me,” Parton, 70, continued. “I was different too, and I embraced and accepted them and I knew them. I knew them well.”

The icon also revealed she’s the go-to in her family to lend love and support when someone is opening up about their sexual identity. “Later on, I did find out I have many gays and lesbians in my own family. We accept them, we embrace them,” she shared.

“Oh, there are some in the mountains who still don’t know quite what to make of it or how they should feel about it, but they’re ours and they’re who they are and we know they’re wonderful and they’re like us,” Parton said, adding, “We love the fact that they are who they are and we nurture that. We don’t try to make them feel separate or different. We embrace it.”

Parton also said that she’s helped some of her loved ones in the coming out process.

“Actually, I’ve had many people through the years who I have helped to feel good about themselves. I say, ‘You need to let people know who you are and you need to come on out. You don’t need to live your life in darkness – what’s the point in that? You’re never gonna be happy; you’re gonna be sick. You’re not gonna be healthy if you try to suppress your feelings and who you are.'”

Not only does the singer have a mass LGBT fan base from her music, but her Pigeon Forge theme park Dollywood has become a big draw.

“I have a huge gay and lesbian following and I’m proud of ’em, I love ’em and I think everybody should be themselves and be allowed to be themselves whoever they are, whatever they are,” she said.

Most importantly, Parton stated that the LGBT people in her life have shaped her perspective.

“I certainly know that the gay people I know are the most sensitive and most caring of all. I think they go through so much that they have to live with their feelings on their sleeve,” she concluded.

Adding, “They’ve had to go through so much that I think they’re very emotional and tenderhearted and more open to feelings, so I’ve just learned the same things I try to learn from everybody. I know they’re good people and I’ve tried to learn from that as well. Most of the gays I know just want to make the world a more beautiful place like I do.”

This article originally appeared on People.

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