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Times have changed 

A look at how LGBT life has evolved in Charlotte

In 2007, I was a 21-year-old gay man moving to Charlotte; a city full of LGBT nightlife, arts, culture, politics and community. No doubt, Charlotte's LGBT community was large and diverse nearly a decade ago, but in all that time it's only grown larger and far more diverse than we can sometimes imagine. Certainly, it's also more influential and powerful.

After nearly eight years as editor of this city's LGBT community newspaper, I'm grateful now to be writing "The Query," a new column for Creative Loafing. Once a month, we'll discuss news and trends in local LGBT politics and culture, as well as topics of statewide or national importance with a local LGBT twist. We'll especially cover issues of increasing significance, like the burgeoning diversity (and sometimes divergence) of viewpoints on community priorities and the need for increased attention to intersectional social justice issues that affect LGBT people. But before we start, I think it's important that we reacquaint ourselves — or, for some of you, introduce ourselves — with LGBT life in Charlotte.

Some years ago, I sat with other community leaders brainstorming ways we could convince Charlotte City Council to make LGBT-inclusive additions to the city's human resources policies. The biggest question then — and even today — was just how big or small our community was. No one really knew. Our community often counts its influence by the number of gay bars in a city, the presence of a community center or the strength of its non-profits. We've rarely ever known our actual size.

We've faced this problem across the country for decades. We're not counted in the U.S. census. We're often not included in demographic surveys or polls. This group of leaders decided to make a step toward changing that perception locally. In a commissioned poll, we found that about one third of surveyed Charlotte residents either identified as LGBT or knew a family member or friend who was.

I was astonished when I saw these poll results, convinced that such a large community of LGBT people and their friends and family could really have an impact on a city that still hadn't taken steps to include LGBT people fully in the civic, social, religious and cultural life of the place we all call home. Still, this estimate remained imperfect. Luckily, other research over the past few years has begun to paint a more complete picture of how our local community stacks up.

In 2010, the census began a more full count of same-gender households, though stopping short of counting LGBT individuals and, thus, the full size of our community. However, we now know the 28205 ZIP code — home to neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood and NoDa — has a higher concentration of same-gender couples than any other ZIP code in the state. In Charlotte, higher concentrations of same-gender couples also live in neighborhoods scattered across the city — Dilworth, South End, South Charlotte, the Steele Creek area, Ballantyne, Providence, Uptown, Cotswold and portions of Camp Greene and West Charlotte. It was, like the local poll, an incomplete picture, but at least it began to focus on LGBT people themselves.

Finally, just this year, Gallup released the results of its survey of nearly 400,000 people, calling it the "largest ongoing study of the distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S. on record." The survey found a national average LGBT population of 3.5 percent. In the Charlotte metro area, the number came in at 3.8 percent, or about 90,000 LGBT people.

That's quite a sizable community, one that can find its influence in a broad range of civic life — from local politics to theatre, from banking to service industries, from communities of faith to neighborhood associations.

Our community has grown by leaps and bounds since I first moved here — and even more unimaginably so since queer folk began organizing in the 1970s. Great non-profits like Time Out Youth have become premier service agencies for LGBT clients. Charlotte Pride, for which I've volunteered and currently sit on the board, has grown its annual festival and parade from a few thousand visitors to over 100,000. If local leaders polled the community today, no doubt we'd find a greater number of Charlotteans who say they know LGBT family members and friends. As the LGBT community grows more vocal and visible, so too do our allies. With greater diversity and size comes the strength and influence to consistently make the Queen City a better, more affirming, more equal place for each of us.

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