CHARLOTTE — For decades, many in the LGBTQ+ community found belonging in so-called “gayborhoods” across the country.
Several years ago, an article in QNotes stated Plaza Midwood and NoDa had the largest numbers of gay couples in the Carolinas. But today, there may be a new gayborhood in town.
Michael Doney said he grew up in a small town, and he started exploring Charlotte’s old neighborhoods in search of something charming.
That’s when he came across the Biddleville-Smallwood Neighborhood.
“It does date back into the 1800s; it was built originally around Johnson C. Smith College,” Doney said. “It’s a very diverse, emerging neighborhood.”
Michael Hopkins told Channel 9′s Madison Carter, “They say the neighborhood really started declining in the 1980s and nineties, early 2000s.”
“It was still the west side, so if you talk to someone from Charlotte, they’re like ... I’m not going over there,” Hopkins said.
“It was apparent that kind of one way to fix up the neighborhood was to bring your friends and try to tour other people around,” Doney said. “So that’s what I started doing.”
It was on one of those tours that Michael met Michael.
“Probably a Friday or Saturday night; I was sitting on my porch and a rocking chair, and he came up and introduced himself,” Doney said.
“We just hit it off,” Hopkins said.
“I said, ‘Do you want to help renovate the house that I have?’ And we decided to do that together,” Doney said.
That was the start of what would become a decades-long partnership that went beyond business.
“We ended up buying pretty much all of the houses on the block and started redoing them one at a time,” said Hopkins, who builds homes for a living. “If you go out of my front porch, pretty much every new house that you can see, except for maybe one or two, we’ve built.”
Hopkins says it makes him feel good to say it’s new construction, but he recognizes one impact of the new appeal.
“As things improve, so do property values, so do the taxes, which also are really hard on original neighbors and a lot of the older community,” he said.
Brenda Norman has been in her home for 50 years. Wanda Laren has been in hers for 35 years, but she’s been in the neighborhood for 54 years. Both of them talked to Carter about the history of Biddleville.
“White people moved out and Black people moved in; then eventually all the white people left, the older ones, then it filled back with Black people again,” said Laren.
“Now it’s going back the way it was in the beginning,” Norman said. “What goes around comes around.”
“It’s a big mix of older, original neighbors that have been here for 50-plus years, plus a lot of new residents,” Hopkins said.
Today, the predominately Black neighborhood they grew up in is now mostly white again. It also has the highest density of LGBTQ couples in Charlotte.
“Unless you were told or you’re just out there watching, you’d never know. Everybody gets up and goes to work. Except us. Yeah, we can sit on the porch, drink coffee, read the paper, whatever,” Norman mused.
“They were very welcoming,” Hopkins said. “Like they had no hesitation about two gay kids coming in and moving in and building houses.”
“Whether they’re gay or straight, if they’re nice, they’re nice. That’s the way we feel about it,” Laren said.
“Everybody and everybody get to have a place to stay, so why not in my neighborhood? I call it my neighborhood ‘cause I was here longer, OK?” Norman said.
Doney said it takes effort to create a community, and Hopkins says he’s hoping to see the community continue to evolve.
“I think that people should be good neighbors, and no matter where they live, I think there’s a lot of great neighborhoods,” Doney said.
“This is where I chose to call home, but I think it’s the best neighborhood.”
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