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Prominent Gay Rights Lawyer David S. Buckel Sets Himself On Fire In Prospect Park

"My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves," he wrote in a suicide note.

By Eric Shorey

He sent an email begging humans to heal the environment. Then he set himself on fire.

David S. Buckel, a prominent lawyer known for his staunch defense of gay rights, committed suicide Saturday by self-immolation in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Buckel was the lead lawyer in the 2001 Brandon v. County of Richardson case, in which a Nebraska county sheriff was found liable for failing to protect transgender man Brandon Teena. Teena's death became the subject of the 1999 film "Boys Don't Cry" and Hilary Swank won an Oscar for portraying her. 

Buckel also served as the project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for LGBTQ civil rights. He was a prominent voice in the fight for same sex marriage.

After leaving Lambda Legal, Buckel became increasingly interested in environmental activism. He volunteered for several local environmental groups, including Added Value Red Hook Community Farm. He also acted as the senior organics recovery coordinator for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s NYC Compost Project, according to The Huffington Post.

Buckel emailed a suicide note to several news outlets, including the New York Times, and had a copy of it in a shopping cart discovered near his body. 

In the note, he decried the planet's environmental woes and suggested it was an influence on his suicide. 

“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.”

Around the time of his fiery death, Buckel also sent an email to a mentee, Domingo Morales.

“I apologize for leaving this world early and leaving you with some big challenges to tackle. But I have to at least try to make this planet a better place for having lived on it," he wrote, according to The New York Times.

“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” the note continued. "Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death."

Buckel's charred corpse was found near Prospect Park West in a field near baseball diamonds. He was officially pronounced dead at 6:30 a.m. 

Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal's acting legal director, echoed the Sommer's sentiments, hailed his life devoted to helping others. 

"David was a beautiful human being who was universally kind to everyone at Lambda Legal, committed to his clients, and devoted to our work," Taylor said in a statement.

Friends and colleagues struggled to make sense of Buckel's brutal demise and suggested he was privately suffering.

I struggle to believe that this is a protest suicide. I think that, underneath, he’s got to be in a very dark place, it’s not characteristic of David," Erik Martig, another mentee of Buckel's, told The New York Times.

[Photo: Screenshot via YouTube]

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