Famed attorney David S. Buckel, a longtime champion of LGBT rights, died early Saturday morning after setting himself on fire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the New York Times reports.
Buckel, 60, who was also a green activist involved in various environmental causes, left a note explaining that the act of self-immolation was a protest against ecological destruction by fossil fuels.
Buckel acted as lead counsel on behalf of the family of Brandon Teena, a transgender Nebraska man raped and murdered in 1993. Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Teena in the 1999 movie Boys Don’t Cry.
As senior counsel and marriage project director at Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights organization, Buckel was a strategist behind notable same-sex marriage cases in Iowa and New Jersey that were key in advancing the marriage equality movement.
Buckel’s suicide note, left in a shopping cart near his body, was also emailed to multiple news outlets, including the Times.
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
“My name is David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” the Brooklyn resident wrote. “I apologize to you for the mess.”
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckel continued. “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.”
“A lifetime of service may best be preserved by giving a life… I hope it is an honorable death that might serve others.”
New York Daily News notes that Buckel also argued against Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay leaders and for the establishment of a Utah high school’s gay student club. He also fought for a Pennsylvania woman’s right to include the epitaph “beloved life partner” on her same-sex partner’s headstone.
“He was all about justice, but he was also all about what it means to be human,” recalls Susan Sommer, a former Lambda Legal attorney. “He knew his craft and his trade and was strategic in how to build the blocks toward a sweeping victory.”