Members of Hearts Beat as One Foundation and Stonewall Sports after an April “Meet Up and Serve” event giving bagged lunches to homeless neighbors. Photo Credit: Hearts Beat as One Foundation via Facebook

While the Charlotte area may not, at first glance, seem to present an abundance of outreach programs targeted at the queer community, a closer look reveals that the city is home to more than a few organizations committed to assisting LGBTQ individuals in the fight against poverty and homelessness.

Among these are a number of religious groups, including congregations under the umbrella of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) — a denomination established in 1968 with the explicit aim of LGBTQ inclusivity. MCC Charlotte, located at 7121Orr Rd. just a few miles northeast of NoDa, maintains a partnership with the downtown Urban Ministry Center while offering its own food pantry for families in need. The pantry operates each Thursday, with the church reporting that its members’ donations are able to feed an average of 10-12 families every week.

A sister congregation, New Life MCC, relocated from its longtime Plaza Midwood location in spring 2017. Explaining its decision on its website, New Life writes that shortly before the move it had “identified the need to provide support to the underserved LGBTQ community in Gaston County.” It continues its philanthropic work today from its new home in Gastonia.

Both MCC Charlotte and Sacred Souls Community Church, a member of the United Church of Christ led by prominent civil rights activist Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, have also partnered with Belmont, N.C. AIDS care home House of Mercy. The family-style residential facility is a ministry of the Catholic Sisters of Mercy and addresses the epidemic of homelessness among persons living with HIV and AIDS. Groups of MCCC congregants regularly travel to share a meal with House of Mercy residents, celebrating this fellowship with members of a population too often relegated to the margins of society, allowed to fall into destitution as a result of their illness and the stigma that accompanies the diagnosis.

Secular organizations, too, play an essential role in these endeavors. The Hearts Beat as One Foundation specializes in fundraising and public awareness campaigns for a variety of causes in Charlotte and the Carolinas. Along with animal rescue and what it terms “emerging needs” — vital issues affecting the local community that are addressed as they arise — the organization places particular emphasis on combating the spread of HIV and reducing homelessness in the Charlotte area. It cites statistics published by the city itself, which released its 2017 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Point-In-Time Count in April of last year. The report, compiled by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Urban Institute, revealed that of the approximately 1,500 Charlotteans living without a home, one-tenth have been classed as homeless for a period of at least a year. An assessment by Time Out Youth Center concluded that, as of September 2016, up to 75 percent of homeless youth in the area identify as LGBTQ. Hearts Beat as One identifies financial hardship as a major factor preventing at-risk populations, including transgender women of color, from accessing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Meanwhile, Stonewall Sports Charlotte, an affiliate of the original Stonewall Sports in Washington, D.C., considers philanthropy and community activism every bit as fundamental to its identity as kickball or bowling. Inspired in part by the success of Stonewall Sports Raleigh, much of whose proceeds have gone to benefit that city’s LGBT community center, the founders of Stonewall Charlotte told qnotes as far back as May 2016 that since its inception less than two years earlier its fundraising efforts had pulled in over $40,000 for other local non-profit organizations.

It’s clear that, whether the activists themselves take the form of Catholic nuns (in or out of traditional garb) or jersey-clad adult dodgeball enthusiasts, efforts to combat poverty and homelessness and to better the lives of LGBTQ individuals in the Charlotte area are not in short supply.