Attention readers! Please be advised, there’s a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur living among us. Though fifty-something and now officially retired, his zest for life and ability to live it so fully has often been envied by many folks half his age. 

Who is this man? 

His name is James Funderburk, “a gay identified bisexual male” who lives in the Myers Park area with his husband of 19 years. By the time this content makes it to print and our website, he’ll be off to Cairo, with subsequent stops in Tel Aviv for Pride, Lisbon, Portugal and Ibiza. Needless to say, he’ll have to read it online. 

Funderburk was born in Eden, North Carolina, a place he describes as “a small mill town north of Greensboro on the Virginia border,” but has lived in the Charlotte area for nearly 32 years. From the comfort of a 100-year-old house in the Myers Park area he shares with his husband Jim Hock, Funderburk talked to us about his multiple business ventures, his travels and sharing life with a man he adores. 

L’Monique King:  So, 19 years huh?  That’s beautiful. How’d you meet your husband?

James Funderburk:  At Velocity, a gay bar that used to be in Charlotte. We were married in 2004, but we’ve been together almost 22 years. We were the first non-heterosexual marriage/union announced in The Charlotte Observer. Jim had to fight for it. He called, and called and wrote letters and finally got them to put us in there. When they finally agreed to list the announcement they wouldn’t put it on the celebration page. They put us in a corner of the newspaper on the garden page, but we got in there. 

LMK:  Wow. He went through such lengths to have your union announced in The Charlotte Observer? Sounds like Jim is a pretty special guy. 

JF:  My husband is the reason I notice things like the scent of the magnolias. He always makes sure to plant things near the windows that are going to smell good. He’s one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever known. He always celebrates other people’s accomplishments, achievements and victories. He’s great about sending a card [to acknowledge a win] and really good at making people feel seen. He’s also really heavy duty into social justice. 

LMK:  What originally brought you to Charlotte?

JF:  I came to Charlotte after my marriage [to a woman] ended and shortly after opened Urban Evolution, a clothing store. I had a few nightclubs and a restaurant as well before becoming a real estate developer in 2007. And now I’ve been able to retire from my real estate business. 

LMK:  Ok, so serial entrepreneur is more than a catchphrase for you – it’s a lived experience. How’d it all start?

JF:  I started my first business at 22 after flunking out of UNCG (University of North Carolina Greensboro) and got into a clothing business. I like to create businesses, generally centering around design. A clothing store, a club – where fashion shows could be held. I’ve done a lot of different things and throughout all of that it’s always been about uplifting people. It started with seeing the magic that can happen when you meet people and they’re looking for a pathway. Whether they are coming out, buying a pair of jeans and realizing for the first time that they are beautiful. Whatever it is, it’s been about doing things that help people find their expression and White Rabbit was part of that. 

LMK:  Wait, White Rabbit? The store that also houses the office for QNotes? What’s your connection?

JF:  I started a bisexual support group in Charlotte back in 1993. There was a tremendous lack of acceptance of bisexual people at the time. Back then there weren’t words like pansexual and I recognized that we needed a group. We needed to come together. So, we started having meetings at the White Rabbit. At the time, I opened and managed the bookstore for a friend of mine, the owner, John Neal. The opening of White Rabbit exposed me to so many parts of our community. I met my first trans people there. They were just starting their journey [in navigating life as trans individuals] without resources or much support. My time at White Rabbit was a really wonderful experience; knowing that I could help where I could just see people and let them know they were seen. It was almost like a ministry of sorts. It was fantastic. All of a sudden, I was a visible out gay person doing business and there wasn’t really anything negative [felt or heard] about it – though there were encounters with an anti-gay mayor, Vin Root. Charlotte has come so far since then. 

LMK:  You’ve been known to be quite a globetrotter. What ignited your passion for travel?

JF:  When I was 13, my mother remarried. [Her new husband] took us to Tehran. He worked for a company that installed phone lines in Tehran and I found myself swept into another culture. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Persian culture [modern day Iran] because it taught me so much about what being hospitable to people is really about. I also experienced sexuality in a very different way also. Homosexuality is a huge part of the culture, though they are known for putting homosexuals to death. 

LMK:  How are same-sex relationships a huge part of a culture that puts people to death for it?

JF:  Since the sexes can’t mix or have sex until they’re married, there are a lot of homosexual relationships, both lesbian and gay and it’s all very discreet. It was almost like an open secret. If you’re going to have intimacy, it’s going to be with someone of the same sex, if you’re not married. 

LMK:  Your debt to Tehran aside, what’s your favorite travel destination?

JF:  Bangkok is my favorite city in the world. It has canals and rivers – kind of like Venice. The boats are mixed with the train system, you can hop off a boat and get on a train. They also have modern architecture and a crazy love for shopping – whether it’s a floating market or a high-end mall. It’s sort of the crossroads of Southeast Asia and the back packing world. This will be my 20th year going to Thailand and Bangkok. 

LMK:  Seems like all those businesses have literally paid off for you.

JF:  I wake up every day and count my blessings for being very fortunate. A lot of people think it takes a lot of money to travel but it really doesn’t. People think they can’t travel but they go to Myrtle Beach or Disney every year and that costs more than it can cost to visit Southeast Asia in general – at the backpack level at least. It’s all about your accommodations and what you’re looking for in an experience. 

LMK:  Pride Season is now gayly upon us <corny pun intended>. For those looking to travel during this time, what would you say are your top three travel haunts for celebrating Pride? 

JF:  Sydney Australia, I’ve been to Pride there about four times. Toronto Pride was amazing as well. Toronto is an amazing city, it’s so ethnically diverse, very much like New York. London World Pride was really good for me. It was where I really woke up to Pride. Seeing these waves of people and different groups so proud. [Recognizing] the pain carried by everyone you see marching, whether because they are trans or of color or old. The energy of a Pride Parade really feeds me and makes me feel very happy to see so many people affirming themselves and accepting and loving themselves. It’s really about the importance of all that because of the oppression our community has experienced. 

<Reflective pause> And things seem like they’re moving in the wrong direction [right now]. My beloved state has been hijacked by gerrymandering and all this shit that is not representative of our population.

It’s one of the reasons I travel. I see so many terrible things going on that I need a break from. Charlotte will always be home to me, but we’re actually working on getting dual citizenship in Portugal right now. We decided to do it when Trump got elected. When he got elected, I had this feeling, I was back to being a kid, being “fag bashed” on the school bus and thought, we’ve got to have an escape route.

LMK:  That’s understandable. Thank you for being so candid in sharing your thoughts and so much about your private life with our readers. Is there anything you’d like to share that most people don’t know about you? 

JF:  Hmmm. Let me think about that for a minute. My favorite meal is Salisbury steak, overcooked green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. I just got my motorcycle license, even though I’ve had a motorcycle for years, because you can’t rent a motorcycle in Greece unless you have an endorsement on your American license. Oh! I know. I’m also close to getting my private pilot license, which means I’ll actually be able to fly a plane.

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