CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This very first weekend of May promises to be a busy one for LGBT community members in the Queen City, with the return of Queen City Stomp and a renewed excitement from those who organize it, as well as AIDS Walk Charlotte and other events.
On Saturday, AIDS Walk Charlotte will take to the streets of Uptown — this year marching right down Tryon St. — to raise awareness and funds for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN). Festivities begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Gateway Village Promenade, 800 W. Trade St., where speakers and other activities, including award presentations, will be held. More than 2,000 participants will then march beginning at 10 a.m. For more information on the AIDS Walk, visit aidswalkcharlotte.org.
That afternoon Democrats in Mecklenburg County will also gather to elect a replacement for current Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, who resigned his Senate District 37 seat to take the mayoral position earlier this month. Among the four candidates is openly gay Plaza Midwood businessman Billy Maddalon.
And, come Saturday evening, revelers will gather for the annual return of Queen City Stomp, Southern Country Charlotte’s signature fundraising and charity event.
Southern Country Charlotte is an organization for the city’s LGBT Country Western music dancing enthusiasts. It also serves primarily as a fundraiser for other groups. Its weekly dance lessons and monthly socials all lead up to Queen City Stomp, a weekend-long dance extravaganza held each spring. Stomp annually raises funds for several other non-profit groups, this year including One Voice Chorus and Time Out Youth.
Founded in 1991, the more than two-decade old organization has seen its fair share of ups and downs, including a recent reorganizing effort undertaken last fall, as members of the group met to determine its future. New board members hadn’t been elected in more than two years. Active membership had dropped to just a dozen or so people.
“We were making a decision whether or not to still exist,” says Robbie Furr, who’s served on the board for four years, now as social chair. “It was just a core group of people still hanging on.”
The weekend promises exciting activity elsewhere across the state. In the capital, the LGBT Center of Raleigh will hold its annual Out! Raleigh festival on Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., at City Plaza on Fayetteville St. For more information, visit outraleigh.org.
A September membership meeting and an October cook out that doubled as a strategy meeting and board election later resulted in a renewed sense of purpose. The new board — including officers who had never before served in group leadership — took to re-energizing the group.
Now, active membership has more than doubled as regular participation in weekly dance lessons and monthly barn dances have skyrocketed.
Mark Wells, the group’s communications chair, has seen the organization grow and contract through the years.
“I think there’s been an evolution with the organization,” Wells says. “We have a lot of new people coming to line dance lessons, coming to barn dances. That’s renewed interest. There’s a newer crowd.”
Leaders attribute some of their growth to a change in their home bar. Southern Country Charlotte had hosted its events at Hartigan’s Irish Pub, which recently closed after nearly 20 years in business. Now, Southern Country holds its line dance lessons, monthly barn dances and this weekend’s Queen City Stomp at Marigny Dance Club.
“We’ve been having a great working relationship with the owners and the staff are wonderful to work with,” Furr says of Marigny.
Wells appreciates the time and effort Hartigan’s put into hosting Southern Country Charlotte, but he, too, thinks the change in venue and a fresh environment has attracted newer attendees.
Huy Khuu, the group’s dance instructor, says he’s seen an influx of straight allies, including a group of women dancers from Waxhaw. Weekly dance lesson attendance has also doubled.
“I think we have definitely opened up to more people from all sorts of walks of life,” Khuu says. “We have straight woman joining us now, and people as young as 21 and upward to their 70s. We’ve definitely expanded our base.”
Khuu adds, “This is the highest participation we’ve seen during my four years at Southern Country Charlotte.”
The team says they are ready for this weekend’s activities, and they want to keep the focus of the organization where it belongs.
“I think the overall mission of the organization is to give back and we can never lose sight of that,” Wells says.
Queen City Stomp begins with an opening dance on Friday evening. Admission is $10. Day-long dance lesson sessions will follow on Saturday and the group’s signature event, the “Cattle Call Ball,” is scheduled for Saturday evening. It will include a silent auction. Admission is $15.
Even as the group focuses on its core mission and outreach, Wells says he hopes Southern Country Charlotte and its weekly and monthly events will also continue to be a place that offers welcome to those who might not find it elsewhere.
“People who are interested in dance and Country Western music, there’s no other place to find that in Charlotte, especially if you are gay or lesbian,” he says. “If you want to line dance and be in a place where you can comfortably two-step with your same-sex partner, this is where you can come and do it.”