A three-year “Soul of the Community” poll by the Knight Foundation and Gallop has found that gays and lesbians are perceived as the least welcome social group in Charlotte.
The survey, conducted from 2008 to 2010, sought to correlate community attachment and loyalty with several factors, including economic growth, civic involvement, openness to various social groups and community and social offerings like nightlife and entertainment.
Residents rating Charlotte highly as a community open to gays and lesbians decreased slightly each year the survey was conducted. In 2008, 16 percent rated the city highly. That dropped to 15 percent in 2009 and finally to 14 percent this year. Gays and lesbians were the least welcomed of all social groups included in the survey each year. Other social groups included older people, racial and ethnic minorities, families with kids, college graduates and immigrants.
According to results of the 2010 survey, 55 percent of respondents perceived Charlotte as having a low openness to gays and lesbians. Thirty-one percent said the city had a medium openness. Only 14 percent rated the city as having a high openness to gays and lesbians.
Katherine Loflin, Soul of the Community’s lead consultant, said openness to each of the social groups included in the survey trended downward each year, but cautioned those results might be caused by the way the questions were asked.
“I think we are particularly specific when we don’t ask about tolerance, we don’t say, ‘Does this community tolerate this group well?'” Loflin said. “We really ask, ‘Is this a good and welcoming place for these different groups?’ and I think that is a higher level of achievement.”
She said survey respondents might have a hard time honestly saying a community is “welcoming” if it only happens to be tolerant. “I think that helps to explain some of the things we are seeing,” she said. “Communities are being pretty honest with us, saying, ‘You know, this is something we can all do a little better at.'”
Charlotte’s downward trend in perceptions of openness toward gays and lesbians has occurred simultaneously with some forward movement on official LGBT inclusion. In 2008, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools passed a comprehensive anti-bullying policy inclusive of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity/expression.” In 2009, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners passed domestic partner health benefits for employees and their same-sex partners. This March, Charlotte’s city manager expanded city employment non-discrimination policies to include “sexual orientation.” In December, Mayor Anthony Foxx is slated to hold an open forum with LGBT citizens at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte, a first for the city.
Despite those few progressive steps, Charlotte remains behind-the-curve when it comes to issues of LGBT equality when compared to other North Carolina cities and towns. Durham and Raleigh, for example, passed “sexual orientation”-inclusive non-discrimination policies in 1987 and 1988, respectively, by public, on-the-record votes of their city councils. Small towns like Bessemer City and Boone have included at least “sexual orientation” in their policies for years. Charlotte also has yet to expand health benefits coverage to employees’ same-sex partners. Several towns, cities and counties across the state have already made such moves.
Charlotte also ranked lowest in openness to gays and lesbians when compared to three other cities grouped with Charlotte as “very high urban – large population” areas. Those metro areas included Palm Beach, Fla., St. Paul, Minn., and San Jose, Calif.
Loflin said survey conductors are often less interested in city-to-city comparisons than are most cities and community members. She added, however, that concerns regarding openness were among the top-most concerns among all 25 participating cities. Other top concerns included social offerings and aesthetics.
The poll randomly surveyed a total 43,000 residents by phone in 26 cities and their metro areas where brothers John S. and James L. Knight owned newspapers. Knight Ridder, Inc., formerly owned The Charlotte Observer. A total of 1,000 Charlotte metro area residents were surveyed in 2010. Other cities surveyed included Columbia, S.C., Detroit, Philadelphia and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Photo Credit: Charlotte skyline via JACreative, Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.