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LGBTQ rights lawyer David Buckel dies after setting himself on fire in NYC park

Buckel apparently committed suicide by self-immolation to protest humanity's dependence on fossil fuels

David Buckel — Photo: Lambda Legal

A nationally known lawyer who championed gay rights has died after setting himself on fire in a Brooklyn park.

David Buckel, 60, was found in Prospect Park on Saturday with a note left in a shopping cart near his remains, which was also sent to several media outlets.

An advocate for environmental causes, The New York Times reported that his note said that he chose to end his life by using fossil fuels as a display of what humanity is doing to the Earth

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote. “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

He also wrote about the inability to inspire change, saying, “Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help.”

Buckel said that he was in “good health” and wrote that his death was meant to increase awareness. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.

Police pronounced him dead at 6:30 a.m., ruling it a suicide.

Buckel was the marriage project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal and was an active promoter of gay rights in both legislation and in court.

In the Nebraska case Brandon v. County of Richardson, Buckel was the lead attorney in the case and helped find a county sheriff guilty of failing to protect a transgender man, Brandon Teena, who was brutally raped and murdered under his watch. He was also the lead attorney on the case Nabozny v. Podlesny which ruled that schools have an obligation to prevent anti-gay bullying.

Buckel was also the main strategist of landmark marriage equality cases such as the New Jersey case Lewis v. Harris, which gave LGBTQ families the same protections as straight families.

He also is responsible for filing a marriage lawsuit in Iowa in 2005, which led to the state becoming the third to allow same-sex marriage and showed that marriage equality could be won in the less liberal heartlands of America.

A former attorney for Lambda Legal, Susan Sommer said that Buckel was “one of the architects of the freedom to marry and marriage equality movement.”

“He deserves tremendous thanks for recognizing this was in many ways at the heart of what it meant to be gay for many Americans and making it a priority,” she said. “I learned so much from him about the emotional center of what it means for a gay person not to be able to have all the protections for the person they love and that it’s worth fighting for.”

In a statement, Lambda Legall called Buckel “an indefatigable attorney and advocate, and also a dedicated and loving friend to so many.”

“Our thoughts and condolences go out to all those who loved David,” Lambda Legal said. “We have lost a movement leader, a colleague, and a friend. We will honor his life by continuing his fight for a better world.”

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