Union County has seen a rise in lesbian and gay households over the past decade, part of a fast-growing demographic across North Carolina, an Observer analysis of new census data shows.
Statewide, the growth rate for same-sex households was 68 percent between 2000 and last year, and now stands at 27,250 homes.
Mecklenburg, the most populous county in North Carolina, had the most same-sex households, 3,221. Matthews had 73 same-sex homes and Mint Hill had 74.
In Union County, Monroe and Indian Trail had the most same-sex homes, with 69 and 59 respectively.
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Union County saw an increase of 49 percent, the lowest rate in the Charlotte region but about middle of the pack for the state's 100 counties. The county has 391 same-sex couples reporting that they are living together, up from 262 in the previous census.
The rise in Union County and the state can be attributed in part to overall growth of people moving into the area. Union County was the state's fastest-growing county over the past decade, with a growth rate of 63 percent.
But a bigger factor likely is same-sex couples feeling more comfortable in identifying themselves on the census forms, said UCLA demographer Gary Gates, an expert in demographics of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"The size of the increase gives you a sense of the size of the closet 10 years ago," Gates said. "There's lots of evidence that even in conservative areas, there is broad acceptance of LGBT couples. The (census) data captures some of that."
The increase in same-sex homes came as a surprise to Andra Furr, who has lived with her partner in Monroe for four years.
"I'm glad we're getting more of a foothold in North Carolina and Union County," Furr said. "I wish it had grown a little more, but I'll take what I can get."
Furr, 50, moved to Union County after living in Concord and Charlotte and owns a janitorial business.
At first, Furr said, she hated Monroe because she found herself living in a small town where she didn't know anyone. But the place grew on her as she made more friends, and now she enjoys living there.
She also said she is open about her sexual orientation and has never experienced any problems in Monroe. People are pretty accepting, she said.
When it was time to fill out the census form, Furr called it a fantastic moment.
"It gives you a sense of freedom," she said. "We're being recognized as part of the human family."
To be sure, gay or lesbian households still represent a sliver of the total households, nearly 1 percent of N.C. homes. Still, every county in North Carolina had gay or lesbian couples living together, as did every Union County municipality.
Also in Union County, 1 in 3 same-sex couples were raising children in their homes; the rate was about 1 in 4 for the state and for Mecklenburg County.
One of the folks calling Indian Trail home is Charlie Somers. About a year ago, he moved there to live with his partner of seven years.
The 64-year-old retiree said he enjoys the community and, like Furr, has not experienced any problems because of his sexual orientation.
Somers moved in after the census form had arrived, but looks forward to filling out the next one as a same-sex household.
"It'll definitely feel good," he said.