Three years ago, Larry Ferri and his partner Barry Pettinato set out from Washington, D.C., to settle in Charlotte. They went through all the usual motions any moving couple might. They found a real estate agent, toured the city and ranked the pros and cons of the neighborhoods they encountered.
It didn’t take long for them to find the right house in just the right area of town.
“I love Plaza Midwood,” Pettinato says. “It’s fantastic.”
Ferri says he loves the area’s proximity. Their neighborhood is close to Pettinato’s work. It’s just a few short minutes drive into Uptown. They’re just blocks away from the central Plaza Midwood business district.
“We don’t go out a lot but really do like to take advantage of what the city has to offer when we do,” Ferri says. Pettinato enjoys going out for quick dinners, drinks and coffee at the gay-friendly establishments that dot Plaza Midwood’s landscape.
The couple’s experience has been repeated time and time again in Charlotte. According to available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Plaza Midwood and the surrounding East Charlotte area are the most popular neighborhoods for same-sex couple households.
Click to enlarge graphs
The 2000 census was the first to collect initial data on the geography of same-sex homes. Eventually, that data was compiled and ranked by ZIP code. East Charlotte’s 28205 came out on top of all other ZIP codes in the state. Ten years later, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reveals similar data. This time, the numbers are drilled down to census tract, compiled from data collected by The New York Times from the 2005-2009 American Community Surveys.
Plaza Midwood and other East Charlotte neighborhoods aren’t the only areas of town with a burgeoning gay popularity. Though the concentration of estimated same-sex households remains highest in the east, plenty of other gay homes are scattered about the city and county. Areas on the South Blvd. corridor, including the neighborhoods of Madison Park, Ashbrook and Sedgefield, rank second behind East Charlotte. The Steele Creek area ranks third. Portions of Providence and Ballantyne come in fourth.
Alyssa Kibiloski and her partner Ann Gonzalez, both in their 20s, had at one time lived in Plaza Midwood. This February, they decided they needed a change of pace. They settled on Barclay Downs, situated next to Madison Park and near Myers Park.
“Plaza Midwood had a great artistic and creative community and it was very LGBT friendly, but we moved here because it is a safe area of Charlotte that was also affordable for the amount of space we have,” says Kibiloski.
Still, she says, they miss the activity of Plaza Midwood.
“People were always out and about,” she says. “It was extremely open and it was a younger area too and we’re both younger. We really enjoyed the active nightlife there, too.”
Kibiloski says she and her partner have been welcomed in their current neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from the South Blvd. corridor. During the anti-LGBT amendment campaign, they saw only one anti-gay sign.
Ferri and Pettinato say their neighbors in Plaza Midwood have also been open and welcoming. The couple socializes regularly with gay and straight neighbors and are members of the neighborhood association.
“I think our neighborhood has a certain little funk about it,” Pettinato says. “It’s certainly not yuppified. It’s eclectic and earthy. It adds a dynamic to the neighborhood.”
Ginger Brock, her partner Katherine Boone and their three-month old son Colin also live near Plaza Midwood. Their Commonwealth neighborhood is home to populations as diverse LGBT singles and couples, Latinos and Vietnamese and other immigrants.
“You get to see something different outside of your window every day,” Brock says. “It’s such a mix of cultures.”
The hubbub and activity of the more urban Plaza Midwood area is exciting for young singles and families, Brock says. A move to more suburban settings might be in the works as Colin grows older, but any new home won’t be in-state.
“It’s going to be out of North Carolina,” she says about a potential future move. “We have our son and with the passage of Amendment One it doesn’t feel as comfortable as it used to. We’d move to the suburbs — just not the suburbs of Charlotte.”
Until that day comes, Brock and her family will relax and enjoy the relative welcome and ease that comes with living in Charlotte’s gayest and hippest hood.
Yet, don’t be fooled, Pettinato warns. Plaza Midwood is no Castro.
“We see a lot of gay people, but it’s certainly not a little gay ghetto by any means,” he says. “The neighborhood association is mostly straight people and their families but we’ve never had one bit of homophobia coming from neighbors.”
Despite the absence of a true “gayborhood” the size of those in larger cities, Pettinato says he and Ferri have managed to find a special niche.
“We lived in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., so we’ve progressively moved into more conservative places but this is a really comfortable place for us to be,”
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— Illustrations by Lainey Millen