Being out in the Outer Banks – a look at LGBTQ life on the NC coast line
It was a quick three hour drive from Richmond down to the Outer Banks on one of the most beautiful days in July. I’d gone to the North Carolina coast a number of times throughout the years, but never during the traditional beach season. To say my boyfriend and I were excited for this trip was an understatement.
We’d lined up a modest little hotel down in Nags Head, about 10 miles south of Kitty Hawk, nestled right at the thinnest (and quietest) part of the island chains that make up one of the East Coast’s premiere vacation destinations.
We pulled up to the Tar Heel Motel, checked in, threw our bags down and within about 10 minutes we were on the beach with drinks in hand.
We didn’t have much time to spend there, just two nights, but we wanted to hit the highlights of the area and speak with a few locals about what keeps them there despite the attention North Carolina has received when it comes to LGBTQ issues.
Back in June, NC’s legislature passed a bill which would allow magistrates the right to deny licenses in same-sex weddings.
“Civil servants have rights, too,” NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said. “The government should respect those rights. Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean they give up their rights… or their ability to act on their beliefs.”
All of this unfolded even as NC’s Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, vetoed the bill – but legislators there overrode that veto, an unprecedented move against LGBTQ equality in the Tar Heel state.
But we were in Nags Head, about 200 miles from the statehouse in Raleigh. We packed up our big-gay bags and decided to see what would happen when two semi-metropolitan queers tried to take to the beach.
Sure enough, our trip was flawless.
Between the 85+ degree weather, the soft sand and plenty of seafood, we had a blast.
“Everything has to do with the beach, nobody cares if I love another woman – and that’s how it should be,” said Melanie Space, a local lesbian I met up with at The Trio near Kitty Hawk.
Space, who’s lived in the OBX for about nine years, said she’s loved the area since the first time she laid eyes on it. Born and raised on a farm in New York, she came out at 21 and spent her days in factories or making her own goat cheese. She decided she was ready for a change of pace and headed south to NC with her best friend.
Now she heads up her own local cleaning company and spends her off hours on the beach.
She’s got a fiancé, Lexie Brindle, who proposed to her last year at OBX Pride Fest with the help of a banner-carrying biplane.
In between glasses of wine and stolen cigarettes, Space told me about the mellow times she’s had since moving south and how she’s never looked back.
Alongside Space was Lisa Crane, a transgender woman and local state employee. Crane grew up in and around the OBX, attending elementary, middle and high school in the area before enlisting in the Navy. She said she always knew she was trans, but didn’t start transitioning until about 11 years ago.
It’s easy to imagine a lesbian woman (even one as open about it as Space) could hide if needed, and hiding was something Crane had considered. But a friend of hers pushed her outside her comfort zone and before long she was unafraid to be herself around town and she’s had no problems since.
“I’ve been dealing with the public; everything’s been great,” Crane said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
“There’s a big beach attitude – as long as you ain’t hurting somebody else, they leave you alone.”
“Its more liberal than you think,” Crane said.
She spoke about running into friends from her early years that she hadn’t seen in ages. When she showed up as herself, things were just as they’d always been.
“I’ve got a lot of conservative friends, people I never thought would accept me – red neck, hillbilly, cowboys – but they were great,” she said.
When Crane went to change her name, the county clerk turned out to be the man she joined the Navy with (there was a buddy system then, she said.) She was a little nervous, but sure enough when she dropped the application he reached over and hugged her and told her how happy he was for her.
So is OBX just about the beach? Kind of – but the pristine beaches are all my boyfriend and I really wanted and you can’t blame us for keeping it simple.
David Miller, a theatre technical director on Roanoke Island and head of the local OBX Pride event, moved down to the area in 2001 after working in the area for about 15 summers.
He and some friends have been taking the lead in organizing LGBTQ friendly events in the OBX since 2009. They put some real force behind the gatherings in 2011 when they held the first official OBX Pride in 2011.
“I really wanted to open [the OBX] up to more gay people moving here, gay families moving here,” he said about the weekly beach parties which eventually turned into the annual event, drawing several thousand people to the local beaches.
“We take [a rainbow flag] to the beach and stick it in the sand dune – that’s how people found us,” he said. “Sometimes there was music, but it was usually just a small group with different people every week.”
As a tourist hub, OBX sees an influx of about 250,000 people every week and 300,000 during peak season. This leaves a lot of room for locals to meet new people and help spread the love of the area.
Space’s airplane-assisted proposal stands out to Miller as one of the most memorable events from past OBX Prides, but he said the event in general is a great time to get out of your hometown and head some place sunny and LGBTQ-friendly.
“It’s a gay vacation at the beach,” he joked. “Come to pridefest so you can feel at ease – come on your vacation and be relaxed enough to kiss or hold hands in public.” “When gay people go on vacation, they sometimes have to censor themselves, but at OBX Pride Fest they can feel safe.”
My boyfriend and I felt safe during our brief but incredible stay, and after the cocktails, crabs and clams, there are few things we’ve got to look forward to like a return to the Outer Banks.
OBX Pride is seeking volunteers for this summer.January 25, 2012
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