Visitors at the Harvey B. Gantt Museum.

Welcome to Charlotte, the LGBTQ+ Gem of North Carolina


It's a little off the radar of many LGBTQ+ travelers, but that's a big part of what makes Charlotte so exciting. North Carolina's biggest city is home to almost a million residents, many of them members and proud allies of the city's vibrant LGBTQ+ community. They're also big fans of arts and culture, dining, outdoor fun, and going out on the town – which adds to the city's sparkle as a great U.S. destination, easily reachable by road, rail, and airplane.

For LGBTQ+ visitors, the annual Charlotte Pride festival has painted the town rainbow since 2001, drawing more than 200,000 attendees to its 2019 celebration. And the gay-pride spirit carries on throughout the year with events like the Reel Out Charlotte film festival, lively LGBTQ+ bars and clubs, and the always-welcoming Southern hospitality of local Charlotteans.

Here are some of the favorite local gems that help the Queen City shine.

Dining at Haberdish

Dining & Nightlife

You won't be surprised that a major Southern metropolis knows good gastronomy. But you may be delighted that LGBTQ+ chefs and entrepreneurs are behind several hot bars and restaurants.

In the city's NoDa neighborhoods, Haberdish is helmed by Chef Rose Mushe, who celebrates the indulgent joys of Carolina cuisine with her own takes on fried chicken, cheddar grits, whoopie pies, and creative veggie-forward dishes. (Fun fact: Chef Mushe recently married her wife at Growler's Pour-house, just down the block from Haberdish.)

Head to lesbian-owned Hattie's Tap and Tavern for pool, karaoke, and pet-friendly back yard, or ease over to Petra's for cocktails and live-entertainment. Gay-friendly NoDa Brewing Company is a top spot for outdoor sipping, while LGBTQ-owned NoDa Company Store is a bottle shop and bar with a roomy patio.

Charlotte stays busy with a great mix of dining and drinking spots, just don't miss one of the city's best wine-and-bites menus at gay-owned Poplar Tapas Wine & Spirits. At 300 East, fill up on excellent burgers, salads, and internationally inspired dishes, plus a knockout weekend brunch. The Bar at 316 is a must as the city's second-oldest LGBTQ bar, located in a renovated 1920s historic home. (Of course, you'd be right to also swing over to Ashley Park for drinks, drag, and dancing at The Scorpio, the city's oldest gay bar.)

Arts & Culture

In Charlotte, "Uptown" is the central downtown area, where you'll find the big sports arenas. Expect big crowds cheering on the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC major-league soccer team at Bank of America Stadium, and Charlotte Hornets filling the Spectrum Center during basketball season.

Uptown is also the heart of arts in Charlotte, anchored by the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and its spectacular collection of mid-century modernist painting and sculptures – along with its iconic, 17-foot-tall shimmering outdoor installation ?The Firebird? by Niki de Saint Phalle.

Like the Bechtler, the Mint Museum Uptown is part of the Levine Center for the Arts cultural campus. Inside its giant, modernist building is the Mint's renowned "Craft + Design" collection, along with standout exhibitions of American, contemporary, and European art. (You can explore more of the exceptional Mint collections at its larger Randolph location, located inside the former U.S. Mint building and surrounded by lovely grounds.)

Since 1974, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture presents some of the most inspiring, thought-provoking works as part of its permanent art and history collections, along with temporary exhibits, curator discussions, film screenings, and other special events.

Stage and screen arts are a major attraction Uptown, too, led by the multi-faceted Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The Blumenthal presents concerts, comedy, speakers, Broadway productions, dance, and many more live ticketed and free year-round events across its six venues; which include the Knight Theater, Booth Playhouse, the Tent at Roomier Bearden Park, and others.

Art lovers should keep eyes open for Charlotte's ubiquitous murals, which add color to neighborhoods across town. The NoDa district (that is "North of Davidson") is especially artful, with eye-catching murals, local galleries, and an array of performance spaces making good use of this former industrial area. (Tip: Log onto ArtWalks CLTto navigate your way around Charlotte's marvelous murals.)

LGBTQ+ Year-Round Pride

After a two-year, pandemic-related hiatus, Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade is roaring back Uptown, August 20-21, 2022. Some special events and celebrations will kick off during June's national Pride Month, ramping up to the big August affair – the South's biggest Pride event after Atlanta's annual October Pride. FYI, the Charlotte Pride Parade is the city's largest annual parade, and LGBTQ+ visitors are always welcome to join diverse crowds for the summer fun.

Charlotte Pride presents and collaborates all year long with other community activist and arts groups. So look for special programming with Charlotte Black Pride, Charlotte Latinx Pride, Charlotte Trans Pride, Charlotte Women's Pride, Charlotte Pride Interfaith Programs, and other partners around town, all coming together for the big mid-August event.

Catch more of the local LGBTQ+ spirit in Charlotte with zesty drag shows taking over spots like NoDa's Artisan's Palate for weekend themed drag brunches. By night, regional and national drag queens take center stage at the male-strip-club-turned-drag-palace that is Chasers NoDa. Other gay-centric goings-on include support, fundraising, and more for community groups like the One Voice Chorus, Transcend Charlotte, and the Freedom Center for Social Justice.

Longtime Pride organizer and community leader Matt Comer says that his hometown often surprises people with its metropolitan style, varied activities, and vibrant neighborhoods.

"LGBTQ visitors to Charlotte will be surprised to see just how welcoming and inviting the entire city is," says Comer. "Charlotte truly breathes Southern hospitality with a big dose of 'New South' diversity and inclusion."

by Kelsy Chauvin

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.

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