Asheville is a gay-friendly small city. Period.
According to the latest United States census, the Asheville area has 83% more lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) identified people than the typical American city or town. Another study, also based on census results, found that Bun-combe County (with 15.5 same sex couples per 1,000) and Asheville (19.7 per 1,000) are the most gay-friendly county and city in the state of North Carolina, on a per-capita basis well ahead of places like Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. In 2010, the gay-oriented publication, The Advocate, ranked Asheville as the “12th gayest city in America.” Atlanta was ranked #1.
LGBTQ+ visitors increasingly are discovering Asheville, with its great natural beau-ty, innovative dining and drinking spots, heavy-duty gallery, arts and crafts scene, interesting shops and numerous gay-owned or gay-welcoming B&Bs and inns and businesses.
You are likely to see a number of openly lesbian and gay couples around town, es-pecially Downtown and in West Asheville.
Downtown Asheville has several LGBTQ+ bars, including O. Henry’s (the oldest gay bar in the state), which also operates The Underground, billed as an industrial dance bar. Scandals is gay nightclub that presents drag shows some nights.
Nearly all the many B&Bs and small inns in the Asheville area are welcoming to gays, and more than a dozen local B&Bs are gay-owned. Of course, the major hotels and motels are welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks. (See Lodging section for more information.)
Asheville has become a major destination for LGBTQ+ weddings, and the first lo-cal LGBTQ+ Wedding Expo was held in 2016. Many businesses in Asheville are LGBT-owned.
Blue Ridge Pride (www.blueridgepride.org) is an umbrella organization promoting gay pride. It holds a variety of events and meet-and-greets year-round, including a gay pride parade and event in late September that draws more than 150 vendors and 10,000 attendees. On its website, Blue Ridge Pride lists more than 50 area groups and organizations that welcome and support members of the LGBTQ community.
The Mr. and Ms. Gay Latino Asheville pageant, held at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, in its 16th year in 2023, attracts visitors from all over the South, and it usually sells out.
Asheville has no single gay residential neighborhood or “gayborhood.” Downtown, Montford, North Asheville and West Asheville are all popular with LGBTQ+ residents, but you may just as easily find LGBTQ+ singles or couples living in a rural mountain cove.
The City of Asheville has offered domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples since 2011, and Buncombe County began doing so in 2013. Mission Hospital, the largest employer in the region, has offered same-sex domestic partner benefits to its employees since 2012.
Buncombe County, of which Asheville is the county seat, in 2016 elected its first openly lesbian county commissioner, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who is 2022 ran for U.S. Congress to represent the local district but lost. Also in 2016, Tammy Hooper became the first female, queer Asheville police chief, although she no longer is in the position.
North Carolina as a whole is not as LGBTQ+-friendly as cities like Asheville.
In 2012, about 61% of state voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage solely as being a union between a man and a woman. The amendment won due to a coalition of conservatives and churches, including large numbers of African-American churches. However, Asheville and Buncombe County citizens voted against the anti-same sex marriage amendment.
In 2016, the Republican-dominated NC state legislature passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, HB-2. The so-called “bathroom bill” that attempted to control access to public restrooms by transgender individuals created a national backlash against North Carolina. A number of companies canceled new investment in the state. Parts of the bill were repealed in 2017, in a compromise between the state’s Democratic gover-nor and the Republican legislature.
In October 2014, same-sex marriage became legal in North Carolina, thanks to a ruling by U.S. Federal District Court Judge Max Cogburn in Asheville. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally.
Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger, whose office is responsible for marriage licenses, led the way in granting same-sex marriage licenses for LGBTQ+ couples. Reisinger was the first government official in the South to take this action after the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.
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We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.