A prominent gay activist attorney who had worked on high-profile LGBT cases, set himself on fire to protest climate change according to a suicide note he left behind. He committed suicide in a New York City public park.
Cases he worked on included a challenge to the Boy Scouts ban on homosexual members. The charred remains of David Buckel were found by a jogger in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. He was 60 years-old. He dramatically committed suicide by pouring fossil fuel over himself and then lit a match to draw attention to the way pollution affects the earth.
The news of David Buckel’s death is heartbreaking. This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice. https://t.co/SL9XZ2cYTR
— Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) April 14, 2018
Buckel’s suicide note read: “My name is David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess,” the note said. The note was left in an envelope labeled ‘for the police’. In his note, he stated he was protesting climate change. His shocking exit from this life was intended as a metaphor for how fossil fuels are destroying the planet. “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” the New York Daily News reported his suicide note said. He compared his macabre demise with the suicides of those who set themselves afire to protest China’s occupation of Tibet. Buckel emailed copies of the note to several news organizations, including the New York Times.
His suicide note went on: “A lifetime of service may best be preserved by giving a life. … Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purchase in death. This is not new, as many have chose [sic] to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see. Here is a hope that giving a life might bring some attention to the need for expanded actions, and help others give a voice to our home, and Earth is heard.”
Buckel worked for Lambda Legal, the country’s largest and oldest LGBTQ legal organization. “Friends said that after he left the organization, Mr. Buckel became involved in environmental causes, which he alluded to in his note as the reason he decided to end his life by self-immolation with fossil fuels,” the New York Times reported. “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water, and weather,” Buckel wrote in the email sent to the Times. “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.”
The fire department responded to an early morning call about a fire at a park in Brooklyn. By the time firefighters got there, his entire body had been burned, FDNY officials said. While joggers and other park goers saw the human blaze, Buckel reportedly called 911 and made sure to leave a detailed explanation as to who he was and why he chose to kill himself. He also included a business card in the note to ensure police would know his identity after his suicide. Buckel lived near the park.
Buckel is most well known for a case involving a murdered transgender teen where he served as the lead attorney; he also worked for gay rights organization Lambda Legal as the marriage project director where he helped strategize gay marriage cases in various states. Buckel ran the NYC Composting Project out of Red Hook Community Farm. He also helped a Pennsylvania woman win a lawsuit allowing her to place the epitaph “beloved life partner” on the headstone of her gay partner and took on the IRS over tax breaks for gay nonprofits.
A jogger stumbled across the suicide remains and shared photographs of them on Twitter before they were covered up by police. She said they were ‘freaked out’ by the discovery. “We were a little freaked out. It took us a little while to process it,” she said. “I rode by (the body) several times,” witness Rochelle Krause posted on Twitter. “The first time I tried to convince myself it was a mannequin. But then the fire department showed up.” Authorities closed off the small section of the southwest corner of the park where he killed himself.
I went back over there in the early evening and this is what they left. I mean, no clean up? pic.twitter.com/MgUolibvtX
— AKA Mrs Amy Orr (@AmyHamberry) April 15, 2018
I'm so saddened and heartsick over the death of David Buckel.
He asked that we be better humans. We must.
— Michael DeVito for Congress (@mdevitojr) April 15, 2018
RIP David Buckel. Your legacy of securing marriage equality in the United States will not be forgotten. https://t.co/7MHZdDHC70
— Millennial Politics (@MillenPolitics) April 15, 2018
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