BY Advocate.com Editors
November 17 2009 4:15 PM ET
What do you say to outsiders about life for LGBTs here?
I spend a lot of time in New York, and a lot of people there are bemoaning the demise of the gay nightclub. They are still there, obviously, but the social constructs of the bars and nightclubs don't have as strong a role in gay social circles as they did maybe 15 years ago. Chapel Hill, actually, is experiencing the same thing — we don't have a gay nightclub. When we were getting ready to invite LGBT travel professionals around the country to come experience Chapel Hill, we didn't have a gay place to take them to. For the same reasons in New York, the gay infrastructure is kind of falling away — Chapel Hill is a town that is very integrated. Some of our most prominent business owners and restaurateurs and others who are part of the hospitality industry are gay.
And they are out.
And out about it — right, and everyone knows ... you walk into the restaurant it's owned by a gay person. And it's a completely different environment than what people were facing 20-30 years ago, even 50 years ago when our community was forced to create these safe spaces. Everything isn't perfect, obviously, but we're not what people expect.
I think one of the things I've found, for instance, when I spoke to Michelangelo Signorile about NYC's Chelsea neighborhood; he described that oftentimes some drunken guys would come in and start doing some gay bashing. I couldn't identify with that because that never happens here because the gay community is integrated within the entire community — there's no one place for them to attack anyone, we're integrated into the fold. But it is a culture shock for those who come from a gay metropolis, as in "where is the gay strip?"
The best we have is a three- or four-block area in Raleigh that happens to be three or four bars.
And that attracts a certain audience within the community.
I'm rarely there; I haven't been to that block in quite some time.
The whole area draws the creative class, which really encompasses both the LGBT and the arts community. I'm sure you want more of those people to move to Chapel Hill. How would you accommodate that growth if LGBTs want to move here and come in droves? That would change the composition of Chapel Hill.
Yeah, I guess it would ... we're a growing community; we understand that there is going to be change. There's an inevitability about growth, particularly in Southern cities like ours. Whereas in the Northeast and the Rust Belt there is an inevitability of contraction. Here we know the growth is going to happen, and Chapel Hill is preparing for a future where more people are going to live and work, and we want to be able to attract the people you're talking about ... I'd like those people to come, so hopefully we're doing our job to in attracting the creative class and keep that element alive.
How did you feel on Election Night when you saw that marriage equality was rolled back in Maine, yet there were local LGBT successes such as yours, Annise Parker’s [qualified for Houston mayoral runoff], Steve Kornell, city council [St. Petersburg, Fla.], Charles Pugh [Detroit city council president], etc.
One of the things that I was interested in was Kalamazoo, where the people had an opportunity to roll back rights and they kind of showed the Mainers how it's done. Of course I was very pleased with the results of my election, and I was excited to hear about Annise; she's been a friend of mine for a long time. But there was a moment — I had a lot of people who worked on the campaign who were gay and lesbian, at least half of my volunteers were. There was a moment of pause; it was kind of a reality check on where we really are. You think of the stereotypes down here in South — we look to the North as the enlightened Eden, right? [Smiles] They claim to be free of all this antigay hostility — and of course there hasn't been racism in 100 years [laughs]. It's further evidence of what I said before — people having an understanding of what the truth is about their environment and the community they live in. I think we learned a lot more about Maine than maybe Maine wanted to reveal. But it's better now that we know than to assume what we thought about it before.
And so where are we — 31 and 0 [on ballot initiatives and legislated bans on same-sex marriage]? But we continue to learn from each one ... 0-31 is kind of deceiving. It really should be 0-31-1, kind of ... Arizona did before it didn't [laughs] ...