A quaint riverside downtown in Wilmington. Photo Credit: M. Tirrell Rhines, via Wikipedia Licensed under Creative Commons.
A quaint riverside downtown in Wilmington. Photo Credit: M. Tirrell Rhines, via Wikipedia Licensed under Creative Commons.

The Carolinas are known for their majestic, mountain beauty and seaside serenity. In between, urban high rises dot the rural, Piedmont landscape. LGBT-friendly oases in the Bible Belt Carolinas include Charlotte, Columbia, the Triangle area and Greensboro. But, maybe, city life just isn’t your thing. Perhaps the easy-going, simple routine of rural life is more your style. You’re afraid of losing the LGBT-friendly lifestyle you’ve come to enjoy in the city, you say. Don’t worry, just take some time to look around. You don’t have to put up with seas of sidewalks — there are plenty of “family”-friendly hamlets in the rural Carolinas

Western North Carolina

With less than 75,000 residents, liberal Asheville it not too big and not too small. The town is home to some of the region’s greatest artists and thinkers. That means its also full of the gays. You can be sitting on the front porch of a hillside home one moment, and minutes later be strolling down a small town sidewalk interspersed with community art and lined with cafés, eateries and shops. With a half-dozen LGBT nightlife options and a monthly LGBT-focused magazine, Asheville offers a unique and varied rural LGBT community.

Further up the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Boone. Home to Appalachian State University, the town is home to a little more than 13,000 people. Winter skiing and summer hiking make Boone a vacation getaway for countless numbers of North and South Carolinians. In recent years, the local LGBT community has seen a bit of growth, largely encouraged by increased advocacy and social efforts by LGBT App State students and faculty


On the outskirts of the bustling Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area sits Hillsborough. Home to less than 6,000 people, this one zip code town is the county seat of Orange County. Lined with historic buildings, antique shops and other unique businesses, downtown Hillsborough is like a step back in time. If you like art, literature and history, Hillsborough is for you. Here, history comes to life as famous North Carolina writers and famous homes and gardens mix a fairy tale potion.

In nearby Chapel Hill, life is a little more hurried. University students and faculty dart across Franklin St. scurrying to their next class or meeting. Cars, buses and trucks pack the town’s tiny streets in midday traffic. Chapel Hill’s not quite city, not quite rural. Just the right mix for someone looking for city life and a flare for down home. It’s twin-like neighbor, Carrboro, offers a robust alternative arts scene.

In the Triad, nestled between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, sits Kernersville. The “Heart of the Triad” is a perfect 15 minutes away from any top-notch restaurant or gay hotspot. With a little over 20,000 residents, Kernersville offers a quite and tranquil opportunity for settling down in a nice home surrounded by trees.

Like Chapel Hill, Davidson is a small college town. Unlike the state’s landmark university town, though, Davidson sits next to one of the state’s largest recreational getaways. Lake Norman beckons water- and boat-loving North Carolinians year round. Summers are full of lazy days in the sun and holiday weekends attract thousands of visitors. Home to no more than 8,000 people, Davidson provides a rural escape for those who can’t stand to part with big city life in nearby Charlotte.

South of the Queen City and across the North Carolina-South Carolina border, lies Fort Mill. Similar in size to Davidson, the town takes its name from a colonial-era fort built by the British and grew as a textile mill hub in the late 1800s. The town is home to Carowinds amusement park and the Charlotte Knights baseball team.

Nearly eight times the size of Fort Mill, Rock Hill, also in South Carolina and a suburb of Charlotte, is home to more than 67,000 people. With a quaint downtown, the city boasts three colleges including Winthrop University, Clinton Junior College and York Technical College. Each spring, the town hosts the “Come See Me” festival, as well as the winter Christmasville festival and a charming Independence Day festival

Coastal Carolinas

Seaside cities sure do have their own kind of charm, don’t they? Along the Carolina coast, two progressive cities stand out. Although not quite rural, Wilmington and Charleston aren’t exactly urban either.

With 100,000 and 125,000 or so, respectively, these two historic Carolina seaports have just enough of about everything you’d expect from an urban landscape, minus the headaches of traffic and other big city problems. Both have good schools and universities, both have historic neighborhoods and businesses and both have a wealth of LGBT-friendly hangouts and nightlife establishments.

In Wilmington, voters have elected North Carolina’s only openly gay or lesbian state legislator. In Charleston, South Carolina’s first openly gay elected official took office last year.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.