Large LGBT presence key to East Charlotte development

LGBT-owned businesses, orgs are part of cultural ‘richness’ in Charlotte’s 28205 ZIP code

Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution mandates that all people living in the nation be counted. The mammoth, decennial census affects the drawing of local, state and federal districts, informs the number of U.S. House members apportioned to each state and determines the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funding for infrastructure and services such as hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior services, roads and highways and emergency services.

Charlotte's LGBT community has found a home in the 28205 ZIP code, especially in Plaza-Midwood and along the Central Ave. corridor. Photo Credit: James Willamor, Licensed under Creative Commons.

While the census doesn’t directly ask for sexual orientation, officials and the White House have announced they’ll be taking a more accurate count of LGBT Americans through information gleaned from answers provided by married and unmarried LGBT partners.

In 2000, the census revealed close to 600,000 same-sex couples lived in nearly every single county in the nation. The numbers have likely grown in the 10 years since the last nationwide count. One estimate of all same-sex couples in 2004 placed the number at over 700,000.

In North Carolina, 16,198 same-sex couples were counted. While North Carolina ranks as the 10th largest state by population, it also ranks as the 11th largest in the number of same-sex couples. In the state, Charlotte’s 28205 ZIP code had more same-sex couples than any other ZIP code statewide.

Encompassing a large swath of East Charlotte — including Plaza-Midwood, NoDa, parts of Elizabeth and parts of the 7th St./Monroe and Central Ave. corridors — 28205 is home to dozens of LGBT-owned or -friendly businesses, bars, coffee shops, antique stores and neighborhoods. At one time, Charlotte’s gay bookstore, White Rabbit, and the Lesbian & Gay Community Center found themselves at home in Plaza-Midwood. qnotes’ offices are here, too.

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Carolina’s LGBTs

Although Charlotte’s 28205 ZIP code has the highest number of same-sex couples, other ways of drilling down the data from the 2000 census reveal different glimpses into LGBT life in North Carolina.

ZIP code by highest number
28205 (Eastway, Charlotte)* 215
27705 (West Durham 138
28806 (West Asheville) 135
27707 (Lakewood, Durham) 130
27701 (Northgate, Durham) 124

ZIP code by percentage** (20 or more couples)
28202 (Downtown Charlotte) 6.18
27601 (Century, Raleigh) 5.34
28801 (Downtown Asheville) 5.01
27701 (Northgate, Durham) 4.68
28204 (Duke, Durham) 4.38

City by highest number
Charlotte 1,443
Raleigh 673
Durham 642
Greensboro 537
Winston-Salem 460

City by percentage** (30 or more couples)
Asheville 2.38
Durham 1.96
Carrboro 1.88
Monroe 1.71
Henderson 1.59

* East Charlotte ranks sixth (2.88 percent) in the list of ZIP codes by percentage, 20 or more couples.
** Percentage of total number of married and unmarried couples.
— Data compiled by GayDemographics.org.

Each of the three primarily LGBT Christian congregations in Charlotte are located in East Charlotte. Unity Fellowship Church and the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Charlotte are only blocks away from each other on Eastway Dr. New Life MCC shares worship space and offices with The Plaza’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

East Charlotte has seen more than its fair share of economic and development challenges. The decline of the once-famed Eastland Mall and changing demographics have transformed the area over the past two decades. LGBT community members have responded to the growing and changing needs in their neighborhoods. Many serve on neighborhood boards, promote local businesses or own them and reach out to less advantaged neighbors.

MCC Charlotte is doing its part. Pastor Catherine Houchins says her congregation reaches out to its surrounding neighborhood through the church’s food pantry. They’re also in the process of starting a clothing pantry.

“We have many more people than just those in the LGBT community who come,” Houchins says. “I would say there’s much more than 50 percent now who are not a part of the LGBT community and most are from this general neighborhood.”

Houchins says most of the food pantry’s clients are African-American and Hispanic. She believes the work the church does is an integral part of its mission as a community grounded in a faith which stresses the importance of social justice.

“As a faith community group we are called to reach out to all people,” she says. “Because we ourselves are oppressed we need to reach out to anyone else who is in distress.”

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Tom Warshauer, an openly gay staffer in the city’s neighborhood and business services departments, says while there are challenges and uncertainty in East Charlotte there are plenty of strengths as well.

Warshauer says he and his colleagues have worked with several non-profit groups and businesses, some of which have gay members or are LGBT-owned. He says there is a “richness” present in the diversity of East Charlotte’s ethinicities, sexual orientations and perspectives. That cultural richness, perhaps, might one day turn to revitalization.

“A lot of people want to look at and focus on the uncertainty of Eastland Mall or Independence,” he says. “The area is one of the most diverse regions in the entire state from an ethnic perspective and we should be celebrating that diversity.”

But with such diversity comes challenges, Warshauer says. He believes there remains a challenge of integrating the east side’s international community, especially immigrants from Latin America, with long term residents.

“It is a long-standing issue,” he asserts.

Responding to the issue will take time and concerted effort. In his role with the city, Warshauer continues to reach out, building upon the strengths of East Charlotte.

“There are a lot of strengths of which the LGBT community is a part,” he says. “We are seeing LGBT people involved. Through the work the Charlotte Business Guild has done to reach out to the Charlotte Chamber or at an individual level where there are businesses located in Plaza-Midwood and NoDa that are LGBT-owned.”

And, while they might already be involved in the city’s business affairs or East Charlotte’s revitalization, Warshauer says he’d like to see members of the LGBT community get more involved.

“I would love to see the LGBT community more engaged, sitting on boards with the city,” he says. “It would be fantastic to see the LGBT community more engaged in that way or on other social or civic boards.” : :

The National Lesbian and Gay Task Force says it wants all Americans counted. That includes LGBT people.

“It’s crazy — the U.S. Census Bureau wants an accurate count of everyone in the country — but there’s no question in the survey that asks if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” the Task Force writes on queerthecensus.org. “You read that right: LGBT people are basically invisible in the survey that is supposed to reflect the diversity of America’s population — and that’s a big problem.”

In response, the Task Force is giving away free stickers which can be attached to your census forms and allow you to identify yourself as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or a straight ally. You can get a sticker through queerthecensus.org.

Until questions on sexual orientation and gender-identity are added to the census — something that can’t even be done until later this decade for the next count in 2020 — there’s only one way to get information on the number of LGBTs living in the U.S. That requires coupled LGBT people to identify themselves as having an “unmarried partner.” If LGBTs married in states where it is legal, their answers of “married” will also be counted.

This article appears in the March 20-April 2 print edition.

Correction: A transcription error resulted in an incorrect percentage being listed for Carrboro in our list of North Carolina’s largest LGBT populations by city in our March 20 print edition article “Large LGBT presence key to East Charlotte development.” The correct percentage of same-sex couples in Carrboro is 1.88 percent. We regret the error.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.