Queer Girl City Guide: Charleston, South Carolina

Health Services – For Your Health!

Besides the giant medical university located in the center of downtown Charleston, this city has a few extra health service centers that you can go to without making an appointment. There are also a handful of queer-friendly spaces that are fantastic in what they do and offer for the local LGBTQ population.

YWCA (106 Coming Street)
Right down the street from the College of Charleston library, the YWCA offers a variety of services for the women of Charleston. While the YWCA isn’t specifically focused on LGBT health, it does do a lot of work fighting for racial justice and empowering women. Among the programs that come out of the YWCA are the Stand Against Racism Diversity Campaign and the Stop the Violence program, which works to resolve domestic abuse.

YWCA

YWCA

Planned Parenthood (200 Rutledge Avenue)
Also located in the downtown area, Planned Parenthood has so many services to choose from and is definitely the place to go for all your health needs. You can go to Planned Parenthood for HIV testing, birth control, abortion referral, LGBTQ services and so much more! Although you’ll see the occasional picketers standing outside (and by picketers we mean the most non-threatening old ladies you’ve ever seen) the people who work INSIDE are super friendly! And they have so many brochures and pamphlets. The guidance counselor in Glee would be proud! Brochures aside, you can count on Planned Parenthood to have your back when it comes to health and LGBTQ support.

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood

Center for Women (129 Cannon Street)
The Center for Women is the only comprehensive women’s development organization in the state of South Carolina. Programs at the Center for Women include the Women’s Writers Forum, which focuses on the “art and business of writing” and the Women’s Leadership Institute, which helps women develop the skills of an effective leader. They also offer job search assistance and have their own micro-loaning program to help female small business owners. So although the Center is not a health service for women and LGBTQ individuals, it is one of the few places in the South that works to help women succeed professionally and personally. Yay progress!

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We Are Family (29 Leinbach Drive, Suite D-3)
WAF is the local LGBTQQI support group for youth ages 11-23. This is a great space for young queerbies to come into their identity and find like-minded folks. This group also acts as a support hub for local high school and college GSAs. Many high school GSAs in the Lowcountry area exist because of the support of We Are Family.

CATS: Charleston Area Transgender Society Let’s be real, y’all. Being transgender in the south is a pretty hardcore experience. Lucky for us trans* Charlestonians, Amy Leigh Garbati exists. Amy and her wife Nancy have been at the forefront of the battle for transgender equality in Charleston and in South Carolina generally. They lead a monthly support group known as CATS for Trans*, gender variant, questioning, and allied folks.


Activism/Feminism – Out in Charleston

Girls Rock

Girls Rock

Girls Rock Charleston is a locally operated feminist non-profit organization that empowers girls and transgender youth through music education, DIY media and creative collaboration. GRC offers after school programming and a weeklong summer day camp in order to cultivate a Charleston in which girls and trans* youth trust and support each other and are safe and encouraged to explore their identities. Needless to say, GRC is super queer friendly and has strong queer and trans* leadership. Besides offering excellent youth programming, Girls Rock Charleston also hosts several fundraising events every year that are pretty much guaranteed to be the queerest thing happening in Charleston. Check the News & Events section of their website for any upcoming events!

SONG

SONG

Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is probably the most epic southern queer organization ever. SONG envisions a sustainable South that embodies the best of its freedom traditions and works towards the transformation of our economic, social, spiritual, and political relationships. SONG envisions a multi-issue southern justice movement that unites us across class, age, race, ability, gender, immigration status, and sexuality; a movement in which LGBTQ people — poor and working class, immigrant, people of color, rural — take our rightful place as leaders shaping our region’s legacy and future. Recently, SONG has begun to grow and do work in Charleston through community events and direct political actions.

AFFA, Alliance for Full Acceptance (29 Leinbach Drive)
“A social justice organization achieving equality and acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,”
AFFA is probably the largest LGBTQ organization in Charleston and is mostly headed by white gay males. Nonetheless, the presence of such an organization proves that Charleston is one of the more accepting cities in the South. Their work with Marriage Equality in SC and the Pride Festival are just some of the things they include on their resume of LGBTQ activism.


Neighborhood/Community/Cost of Living – Downtown Chucktown

charleston

Overall, the cost of living in Charleston ranges from affordable to outrageously expensive. From million dollar homes near The Battery to modestly priced single family homes in Wagener Terrace, you can find a place to live that fits your financial means. Downtown Charleston is comprised of several neighborhoods, each with their pros and cons.

While there is no designated “gayborhood,” queers tend to flock to Park Circle, the historic downtown section of North Charleston. Located off of the peninsula, Park Circle features an eclectic blend of restaurants and bars, parks, and other family-friendly activities.

Charleston - Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row


Hair/Body Mod/Tattoos/Nails – Looking Fresh

For a while South Carolina required anyone under the age of 21 to have their parent’s permission to get a tattoo, but in 2010 that all changed! Now anyone over the age of 18 can get a tattoo of Rachel Maddow’s face on their thigh without any okay from the parental units! Yay!

Broken Lantern Tattoo (1856 Belgrade Avenue Unit B4)
Broken Lantern does phenomenal work and is our number one pick when it comes to getting tattooed in the Lowcountry. There are two main artists that work in the shop, Glen Collins and Joe Perez, and while their tattoo skills are amazing, they both are fantastic artists on paper as well.

Broken Lantern 1

Broken Lantern Tattoo

Lava Salon (811 Savannah HWY)
Probably the only place in Charleston that you can get a true alternative haircut. Just walking in, you can tell the staff knows what they’re doing. Lava Salon is not located downtown, but it is definitely worth the drive. Check out their virtual tour on their website!

Amanda Rose, who used to work for Lava Salon (she now works for Johnny Cosmetics), is proof that this place can do magical things to your hair. According to Amanda, “Hair tells people whether you’re laid back or structured, classic or progressive, edgy or effortless. When so much of our identity is predetermined, it is empowering to choose a hairstyle that represents how you feel.” Who doesn’t agree with that kind of hair-philosophy?

Amanda Rose (stylist)

Amanda Rose (stylist)

Stella Nova (292 King Street)
While Charleston doesn’t have any specific hair salon/barbershop for queers, Stella Nova is a pretty fantastic place to get your hair cut! Located on King Street and right next to the College, all the employees are extremely friendly and accepting of any hairstyle you present them with. Every queer cut Paige has ever had has been at Stella Nova and her hair looks pretty damn good.

Stella Nova

Stella Nova

DIY

Anytime, anywhere! Why pay for a haircut when you can do it yourself? Regardless of salon options, many girls around the area take shears (or razors) to their own hair. So if you’re looking for the perfect hairstyle for your beautiful queer persona call a friend who has a good pair of scissors and get to cutting! Our contributing author Beck Schillizzi knows how to wield a pair of shears and is the king of DIY haircuts. So hit him up if you’re in Charleston!

DIY

DIY


Books – Book Worms

Blue Bicycle Books (420 King Street)
The only thing that could make this cozy used book store better is if they had the most adorable and fluffiest store cat… which they do. I would like to say that I love books and therefore it was inevitable for me to find my way to Blue Bicycle, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the cat was a huge part in what drew me in. Store cat aside, Blue Bicycle Books is an experience. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the literature they carry and reading in the store is almost like reading in your own personal library. While known as a used book store, Blue Bicycle also carries newer books written by local authors. We highly recommend making a trip to the best used bookstore in the South, if not for the phenomenal book selection, at least for Purdy the store cat.

Blue Bicycle Books

Blue Bicycle Books


Arts – Arts Scene

The arts have a heavy presence in Charleston. From galleries and studio spaces, to theatres and performances, there is always something to do/see/experience. On the first Friday of every month, galleries around Charleston open their doors to locals and visitors. From 5-8pm, socialize and gallery hop around the French Quarter, between East Bay and Meeting Street near Broad Street. The openings typically include free wine and a great atmosphere. Free wine and great art? Treat yourself.

A few places you should check out include:

Theatre 99 (280 Meeting Street)
With only 99 seats in the house, the appropriately named Theatre 99 is Charleston’s home for improv comedy. Grab a drink or snack from the bar and catch a show for just $5 on Wednesday night, or $10 on Friday or Saturday. Want to improve your improv? Theatre 99 offers a training program for up and coming comedians in the Charleston area! Get there early if you want one of the 99 seats!

Theatre 99

Theatre 99

Redux Contemporary Art Center (136 St. Philip Street)
Redux is a nonprofit organization that fosters creativity and the development of contemporary art through exhibitions, studio spaces, and workshops. If you’ve ever wanted to take a painting, screen printing, or photography class, Redux is the place for you! If you’re already an artist, Redux offers studio spaces for rent, as well as a dark room for you analog photographers. One of the most unique features of Redux is its ever changing exterior. Every few months, the building gets a fresh new mural courtesy of an artist in residence.

Redux

Redux

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (161 Calhoun Street)
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is run by the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston. The Halsey hosts traveling exhibitions throughout the year, including some site specific installations. Exhibit opening nights typically include live music, light hors d’oeuvres and wine! The Institute also displays student work at the annual Young Contemporaries event.

Halsey Institute 1

Halsey Institute

Spoleto Festival USA (Various locations)
Each year, Charleston hosts Spotelo Festival USA, a two-week arts festival, bringing acts from all around the country (and world). We recommend Spoleto if you want to experience both performing and visual arts. Our favorite part about Spoleto is Piccolo Spoleto, Charleston’s sister festival that runs during Spoleto Festival USA. Unlike Spoleto, Piccolo Spoleto features artists and musicians from Charleston and surrounding cities in South Carolina!

Spoleto Festival

Spoleto Festival

The Music Farm (32 Anne Street)
The Music Farm is one of the most well-known venues in the Charleston area. The concert space has hosted artists such as Brandi Carlile, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, City and Colour, Beach House, and many, many more. The best part? Tickets rarely cost over $30, so you can listen to some amazing musicians in an intimate setting without breaking your budget. In addition to being a fun, laid back music venue, the Music Farm is also an excellent date venue. While there are a few seats in the house, it’s majority standing room.

Music Farm

Music Farm

Pride

The annual Pride festival in Charleston takes place during the summer months, and draws residents from all over South Carolina (and beyond!). The parade is followed by a rally, featuring guest speakers, inspirational figures in the community, and other entertainment. The rally typically includes tents/vendors, promoting local organizations or selling rainbow everything.

Pride 2

Pride

Pride is now held in Downtown Charleston! The decision to move the parade from Park Circle in North Charleston to the Downtown area was a big one. The Charleston LGBTQ community has never been so out in the open and with this kind of visibility we can only hope that more progress will come. There are a few other events that will be going on before the actual pride parade. Just to name a few, there is the annual Charleston Rainbow Run, a 5k run, walk or bike benefitting Pride, the Star Spangled Pride Pageant at the Pantheon on the 4th of July, and then finally during the week of Pride there will be a rally in North Charleston called Takeover Charleston. It’s going to be a spectacular celebration this year and for any of you visiting, you’ll finally understand the true meaning of southern hospitality!

Pride 1

Pride

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Paige has written 2 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. I haven’t read this entire thing but this is a pleasant surprise. The queer community isn’t represented very well but it’s nice to see somewhere familiar get some love. I’m from town about an hour away from Charleston.

  2. I’m from around Charleston and downtown is very hipster/college students/fancy rich folk type of place. Make sure you dress to the 9’s because that’s how everyone who isn’t a tourist dresses. If you’re a hipster, you must be super hipster. If you’re high class, you must be super high class. And if you’re a tourist, you are a super tourist. :D But ya everything is accurate, not much of a queer scene and when there is one it’s more for gay men. The city keeps getting voted highly on the attractive people scale as well, top city for TIME. http://newsfeed.time.com/2010/11/10/where-do-americas-most-attractive-people-live/

  3. Visited Charleston on a spring break vacation back in the 90’s. Had an awesome sunset cruise on the Schooner Pride, and a lovely dinner at Queen 82 (among many other fun activities). Good times. I try not to revisit places when there are so many new ones yet to see, but it wouldn’t take much to convince me to break my rule for Charleston.

  4. Oh, Charleston will always retain a place in my queer Midwestern heart because that’s the trip that took my 15-year-old self far enough away from home to clear my head and finally come to terms with the truth: I was one gay lady.

    I can be glib about it now, but 12 years ago that was one terrifying and alienating discovery.

    I don’t think we visited any of these places, though. When I wasn’t silently wrestling with questions of attraction and Biblical morality, I vaguely remember streets of old mansions and a pier on which I caught a pigeon.

    Hmmm…I think a redeeming road trip is in store. I know just where to look for an itinerary! :)

  5. this is great! my parents moved to charleston a couple years ago, and i’ve been wishing there was a queer girl city guide for the area.
    i think this list will help me feel more eager to explore when i go visit them

  6. Oooh, thank you for this! I’m planning a trip across the south starting from Austin TX on the 23rd and ending in Durham NC on the 28th… looking for some tips! Is this info still in date and should I make sunny seaside Charleston my last stop before Durham? (I won’t take much convincing!)

    Also – anyone have any recommendations for places to stay?

    Thanks!

  7. Yes yes yes. Great list. Downtown Charleston is definitely the place to be if you’re queer. Also James Island and Avondale have some hot spots.
    My partner and I are moving to Charleston this year. I was born there and moved away when I was 11. So much has changed since then. I’m hoping to meet some interesting/liberal/queer people when we move.

  8. This is a great write up! it really helped me and my wife as we moved to the area. I’m a financial advisor here in Charleston and need to help our LGBTQ community. Seeking help with LGBTQ business owners and folks looking to provide financial comfort for their loved ones. Please feel free to message me. This article was so helpful. Please take a notice for some great eats in Charleston. Southern and Seafood are the best! Thanks again for writing this article!

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