CHARLOTTE, N.C. — State Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a veteran lawmaker and LGBT community ally, died on Thursday at age 67, ten days after a stomach cancer diagnosis.
Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, had represented Buncombe County in the North Carolina House and Senate since 1979. Most recently, he served as the Senate minority leader, previously serving as majority leader when Democrats controlled the chamber.
Citing health issues, Nesbitt stepped down from his position on Monday, but asked at the time that his health concerns be kept private.
Nesbitt was first appointed to fulfill his late mother’s vacant House seat in 1979. He was reelected to the position each election until 1994, when a Republican opponent pushed him out. In 1996, he returned to the House. He was elected to the Senate in 2004.
During his time in Raleigh, Nesbitt was a solid ally to the LGBT community. He sponsored or co-sponsored several LGBT-inclusive and other progressive pieces of legislation.
In 2008, Nesbitt was a co-sponsor of the Healthy Youth Act, which mandates more comprehensive sex education in schools, and he voted to approve the landmark School Violence Prevention Act requiring all public schools to adopt stringent, LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies.
Nesbitt was also a co-sponsor of a bill to prevent racial profiling in traffic law enforcement and the North Carolina Racial Justice Act, which set up protections to guard against racial bias discrimination in judicial decisions imposing the death penalty.
In 2007, Nesbitt co-sponsored a bill that would have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in state employment.
Nesbitt’s affinity for the marginalized struck up controversy, even within his family. His stepson, Chad Nesbitt, founder of the conservative website CarolinaStompers.com and a former Buncombe County Republican Party chairman, once criticized his stepfather’s employment bill and said North Carolina LGBT advocacy groups were looking to “push [their] sex life on others.”
In 2011, Nesbitt spoke out against the then-proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, taking on the measure’s sponsor, the late state Sen. Jim Forrester. Nesbitt called Forrester a “gentleman and a scholar,” but nonetheless struck back on the floor of the Senate as the chamber debated the measure.
“I’ve served with Sen. Forrester since he got here and I’ve always considered him a gentleman and a scholar. I appreciate my service with him and he drags this bill up and the next thing I’m reading is that he’s declared my community a cesspool of sin,” Nesbitt said in response to Forrester’s comments regarding Asheville just one week before the floor debate. “I tell you what, mountain people are getting a little tired of people sitting down here throwing darts at them.”
Nesbitt was also known for his strong values and advocacy on behalf of mental health issues, education, women and workers. Nesbitt also spoke out against dramatic changes to North Carolina voting law shepherded by Republicans in the legislature last year.