Your community is part of ours.
If you're looking for an escape from the everyday routine, bring your partner or spouse and head to the edge of the Triangle. It's the perfect place to relax, unwind, and be yourself, with plenty of cafes, bars, boutiques, festivals, and outdoor activities. If you favor destinations with lots of terrific food, a rich arts and music scene, or a variety of recreational opportunities, Orange County, N.C., deserves your consideration. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Carolina piedmont, this progressive community appeals to every vacationer’s taste—and is one of the most welcoming sections of the state.
“We’ve had many friends from out of state joke that we live in ‘Appalachia’,” notes Hillsborough resident Steven Petrow, Washington Post columnist and author. “Of course, once they visit, they realize they’re 100-percent wrong—and that Orange County is home to James Beard Award-winning restaurants; UNC, the oldest public university in the U.S.; and a host of this country’s best writers—Allan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Daniel Wallace and so many more. Oh, and it’s a county where gays and lesbians are right at home with everyone else. That’s true equality.”
From 1995 to 2004, Carrboro was led by Mike Nelson, the first openly gay candidate elected mayor in North Carolina. “I always feel welcome anywhere I go in Carrboro or Chapel Hill—and this was the case before I became mayor!—and able to talk openly about my family and my life. This is not the case in many communities, and we recognize that we are so fortunate to feel so welcome and a part of the community here.
In fact, Orange County is currently home to half of the state's gay and lesbian elected officials, a trend that started in 1987, when Chapel Hill Town Council Member Joe Herzenberg became North Carolina's first openly gay elected official. Further proof of the community’s values: “Carrboro has the oldest domestic partner registry in North Carolina and recently declared October 10 Marriage Equality Day in celebration of the October 10, 2014 court decisions that brought marriage equality to North Carolina,” explains Damon Seils, a Carrboro alderman. Chapel Hill also has a registry.
In early 2021, all local governing boards in our Orange County communities voted to pass an ordinance broadly protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. North Carolina municipalities regained the freedom to pass such measures on Dec. 1, 2020, following the expiration of HB142, also known as “the bathroom bill.” A key champion of the local legislation was Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle. "Our community has a long-standing reputation as the most welcoming place in the state for the LGBT community," says Lydia Lavelle, the state's first openly lesbian mayor.
Here's a sampling of some of the things
you can see and do in Orange County,
Visit the New South
Whether you’re ambling along our scenic downtown streets or rambling through the wooded hills, you’ll find yourself in a unique Southern community. “It epitomizes ‘The New South’,” says Jen Jones, who is a former director of communications for EqualityNC. “It’s a place of the future that welcomes diversity, embraces inclusivity, and is a gateway for native Tar Heels, wayward travelers and new transplants alike. Chapel Hill-Carrboro remains one of the most LGBTQ-friendly areas in North Carolina and across the South.”
Petrow agrees. “I travel all over the country and gays and lesbians are ‘tolerated’ more and more just about everywhere, which is great. But here we’re accepted,” he says. “I’ve looked for a place like this to call home my entire life and now I don’t plan to leave until my toes point up at the stars.”
More good reading...
Follow Lesbian travel writer Arielle Scarcella as she visits UNC - Chapel Hill and Carrboro in this video.