David Buckel, a prominent LGBTQ civil rights attorney, fatally set himself on fire at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, early Saturday morning.
He was 60 years old.
In a suicide note left near his body, Buckel said he had used “fossil fuel” to ignite the fire and wanted his death to symbolize what humans are doing to Earth, the New York Daily News reported. Buckel emailed copies of the note to several news organizations, including the New York Times.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckel wrote in his note, according to the Times’ copy of the note. “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.”
Buckel worked with several environmental groups, including doing volunteer work with the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm and acting as the senior organics recovery coordinator for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s NYC Compost Project.
But his more prominent achievements came in his work as a civil rights lawyer.
Buckel was a senior counsel and director of the Marriage Project for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ advocacy group. He argued in many landmark cases involving LGBTQ youth, including a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and its former ban on gay members.
Camilla Taylor, director of Lambda Legal, said in a statement to HuffPost that their organization will honor Buckel’s life by “continuing to fight for equality.”
“The news of David’s death is heartbreaking,” Taylor said.
“David was a brilliant legal visionary. David helped create Lambda Legal’s focus on LGBT youth,” Taylor continued, detailing Buckel’s work on a case that led a federal court to rule that schools “have an obligation to prevent anti-gay bullying.”
She added: “His thoughtful and engaging advocacy broke through many stubborn misconceptions and showed it was possible and necessary for our movement to speak up for bullied, ostracized LGBT young people.”
One of Buckel’s most high-profile cases involved the gang rape and murder of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old transgender man who was killed as a result of a hate crime in Nebraska.
Buckel worked with Teena’s mom, JoAnn Brandon, in a lawsuit against Richardson County, accusing Sheriff Charles B. Laux of failing to protect Teena from his rapists, who killed him after he reported the rape. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in Brandon’s favor.
Teena’s life was later adapted into the 1999 film, “Boys Don’t Cry.” Hilary Swank, who starred in the film, won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for her portrayal of Teena.
Early Saturday morning, people at Prospect Park noticed Buckel’s body before first responders arrived on the scene.
Irene Ryjova, a 44-year-old woman who was rollerblading in the park early Saturday, told the New York Post she saw the body lying on the floor “like someone would lie on the sand at the beach.”
In his suicide note, Buckel recalled the Tibetan monk protesters who have set themselves on fire in protest of the Chinese occupation in Tibet, according to the New York Daily News.
“This is not new, as many have chose to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see,” Buckel reportedly wrote.
“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.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.