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Utah gay activist David Nelson dies at 62

David K. Nelson, a prominent Utah gay activist who dedicated his life to advancing equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community and advocating for individuals with disabilities, passed away Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was 62 years old.

Born on April 7, 1962, in Salt Lake City, Utah, His early interest in politics led him to study political science at the University of Utah from 1982 to 1984. Though his formal education was cut short, Nelson’s impact on the political landscape of Utah and beyond was profound and enduring.

Nelson’s activism began in the early 1980s, a time when the fight for LGBTQ+ rights was still in its nascent stages. In 1982, he founded the Military Law Task Force of Salt Lake City, providing paralegal support to active duty and veteran service members. His early work with the Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the University of Utah, where he served as vice president, laid the groundwork for his lifelong commitment to advocacy and equality.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Nelson played a pivotal role in the formation and leadership of numerous LGBT-related organizations in Utah, including the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah, Gay Community Inc., and the Gay and Lesbian Utah Democrats, among others. Nelson also co-published the Community Reporter and contributed to various other publications, including Triangle Magazine and QSaltLake Magazine.

In 1985, he and Michael Aaron were bound in holy union through Metropolitan Community Church at First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. While they separated as partners, they remained close friends throughout.

Nelson’s activism extended into the political arena, where he was a tireless advocate for legislative change. He successfully lobbied for the passage of several key pieces of legislation, including Utah’s first hate crimes law and policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in county government employment. His work also ensured the inclusion of LGBT sensitivity training for Salt Lake City police officers and protections for terminally ill individuals seeking viatical settlements.

In addition to his work for LGBT rights, Nelson was a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights, founding Stonewall Shooting Sports of Utah in 2002. This organization became one of the largest local LGBT firearm groups in the United States, reflecting Nelson’s belief in the importance of balancing civil liberties.

Nelson’s personal life was marked by significant challenges. In 2015, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which led him to focus on advocacy for individuals with autism within the LGBT community. He co-founded the LGBTQ-Autism Utah organization in 2018, partnering with the Utah Pride Center and the University of Utah Health Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic to provide much-needed support and resources. In his later years, he exhibited symptoms of Lewy body dementia, which ultimately took his life.

Nelson’s contributions to the Democratic Party encouraged many LGBT Utahns to become active in politics, serving as party leaders and influencing policy from within. His efforts earned him recognition from numerous political and governmental leaders and accolades from the community he served so passionately.

Despite facing considerable opposition and often generating controversy within both the LGBT and broader political communities, Nelson’s unwavering commitment to equality and justice remained his guiding principle. His legacy is reflected in the many laws, policies, and organizations that continue to benefit the LGBT community in Utah and beyond.

Nelson is survived by family, friends, colleagues, and the countless individuals whose lives he touched through his advocacy. His work will be remembered as a cornerstone of the fight for LGBT rights, and his impact will be felt for generations to come.

A memorial will be held Thursday, June 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 S. 900 E, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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