CommunityPam's House Blend

The Triangle is an oasis of tolerance

My good friends Denise Barbour Dunn (L), Corye Barbour Dunn (center), and friend William Palmer (R) at Mad Hatter’s in Durham. We all love living here in the Triangle area, particularly Durham, because it is so gay-friendly.

I want to give a shout-out to our local progressive paper, the Independent Weekly, for its fantastic piece this week, “The gay life” which tells you all you need to know why I love my hometown and my area of the state of NC. It’s an oasis of tolerance that folks, particularly Yankees from outside of the state, don’t really believe exists. It does, despite the outrage of the cross-burnings a few weeks back — that shocked everyone here. As the Indy’s Jim Baxter, author of the piece says, “Gays and lesbians like the Triangle because of its tolerance and politics–and all the things about living here that straight people like, too.”

I was glad to see that he interviewed two of my good friends, Dee and Corye for the article. They had a holy union last year in Raleigh; I was the “official wedding photographer” – :).

But back to the Indy article…

Despite the considerable conservative population around us, the Triangle has become a surprisingly attractive place for gay men and lesbians. In part, it’s the tolerance created by three major universities with active student groups. Research Triangle Park attracting large corporations with liberal employment policies certainly helped. The large influx of people from urban areas helped, too.

Add in the political climate as another factor. “Of the places to live in North Carolina, I think this is one of the hubs of liberal thought and politics,” Lamazares says.

And gays and lesbians like it here for all the same reasons straight people do. Some move here for jobs, some for a less hectic way of life, some for a lower cost of living. Some grew up here and never left, of course. Some are moving back, years after running to a big city to come out, to be close to aging family members.

… In Durham, Mad Hatter’s Caf?Š and Bakery is one of many places where gay folk hang out.

“Great local places to hang out with other gay people, in my opinion?” Denise Dunn, 36, easily lists a couple dozen one right after the other, and those are just in Durham. They are pretty much the same places that straight people like to hang out.

“Although I frequented those places a lot more when I was single,” she says, “my partner and I will still visit those places alone from time to time and with our other lesbian friends. And when we have children (which will be within the year), we will definitely feel comfortable going to those same places.”

There’s a feeling of relative safety; there’s no need to keep looking over your shoulder for potential danger. When there is an attack–as there was earlier this year in Chapel Hill–we are surprised and shocked. And swift to take action. That’s quite a change from 30 years ago, when I first moved to the area.

The main obstacle to the Triangle being a true gay mecca is the lack of an official gay district since we’re talking about Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, all miles apart with sizeable suburban areas, and Baxter notes this.

Building a thriving community here hasn’t been easy, and not just because some people are still in the closet, and not just because of the conservatives all around us. North Carolina is unusual in that is doesn’t have a single urban center that predominates, the way Chicago does in Illinois or Atlanta does in Georgia. There’s safety in numbers, and an out, viable gay and lesbian community needs a certain critical mass.

The problem is compounded in the Triangle since, despite astounding growth, we’re still living in three different cities (with satellite suburbs). That’s made it impossible, for example, to establish a physical community center. Wherever you put it, it will only be a center for that city, and not the Triangle. So, even as the community grows, it’s still hard to make connections.

One way to facilitate socializing that helped start up a few years ago, is an online community. TriangleGrrrls, was created to help newcomers to the area meet and go out to dinners and social events, as opposed to the old saw bars and clubs. It was actually through one of the events, Java Jolt (board games at a local coffee house after work) that I met my future wife, Kate. [BTW, our anniversary — we were married in Vancouver last year — is coming up on July 1, so we’ll be off to celebrate!]

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding