CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The LGBTQ+ community thrives and relies on togetherness, but sometimes finding the right players takes a little work.

One Charlotte group that formed in the darkest days of the pandemic though has really leveled up.

In a time when people can’t seem to agree on much, finding a unifier, a level playing field is rare.

It’s the whole reason Johnny Saldana helped start Charlotte Gaymers Network; a LGBTQ-friendly group of gaming enthusiasts.

“When you pick up that controller and you sit next to somebody, all that matters is what’s happening on that screen,” said Saldana.

Pandemic created a start for group

The group started as a small Facebook group where people could connect and bond over gaming during the height of the pandemic but has since grown into so much more.

Saldana said, “A lot of people when they first hear about us or see what we do, are kind of surprised that we’re able to bring together so many people through their shared passion of gaming.”

Over the past few years, CGN has really stepped outside the confines of the console by adding  paid memberships and putting on large-scale free events in addition to their signature monthly event at the Carolina Esports Hub.

“Our number one thing is creating best-in-class events and experiences for our folks. So we’ve been able to produce pride activations, conventions, concerts, festivals,” Saldana explained, “There are several different perks that our CGN+ members are able to enjoy, such as VIP advanced movie screenings. We get to see all the Marvel movies days before the public, we get tickets to Broadway shows.”

The group also puts on countless events for everyone to enjoy, like a pre-party at the Charlotte Art League in NoDa as part of the Reel Out Charlotte Festival.

“What’s really, really cool about this particular screening is that there’s also a companion video game that we’re able to play here as well, “Saldana said, “It’s a four-player, local co-op, fighting game and it’s a lot of fun.”

Memberships start at $10 a month.

A motley crew of experience

Even though there’s a gaming aspect to almost every event CGN outs on, you don’t actually have to like video games to join the fun.

CGN member, Gary Knight, may not know a Nintendo from an Xbox but he told Queen City News that he does know a good thing when he sees it, so he’s been a member since the beginning.

He said, “Everyone is open to absolutely everyone, regardless of age, regardless of sex, regardless of anything else. It’s open to everybody and it’s welcoming.”

That’s the big reason why CGN is always attracting new members, like Nathan Ryder, who just joined the group a few months ago.

“It builds friendship, it builds family, it builds community,” Ryder said, “Social events are extremely important and even more so to the LGBT community because, we’ve always been sort of out there on the fringes.”

If CGN’s rapid growth is any indication of what could be next, you might start seeing them everywhere.

Saldana said, “It is absolutely our plan to be able to build chapters throughout the country and expand our operation from coast to coast.”

To check out CGN’s event lineup or become a member, visit their website.