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LGBT Attorney & Activist, David Buckel, Commits Suicide in Protest By Setting Himself on Fire in Prospect Park


This is a horrific thing to report on a Sunday morning…

According to The New York Times,

The remains of the lawyer, David S. Buckel, 60, were found near Prospect Park West in a field near baseball diamonds and the main loop used by joggers and bikers.

Mr. Buckel left a note in a shopping cart not far from his body and also emailed it to several news media outlets, including The New York Times.

Mr. Buckel was the lead attorney in Brandon v. County of Richardson, in which a Nebraska county sheriff was found liable for failing to protect Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Falls City, Neb. Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mr. Teena in the 1999 movie Boys Don’t Cry.

While serving as marriage project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Mr. Buckel was the strategist behind important same-sex marriage cases in New Jersey and Iowa.

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.

In his note, which was received by The Times at 5:55 a.m., Mr. Buckel discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so.

In his suicide note, Buckel said privilege was derived from the suffering of others,

Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. 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 wrote that donating to organizations was not enough. He said that he himself he was privileged with

good health to the final moment.

He wanted his death to lead to increased action.

Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.

The police said Buckel was pronounced dead at 6:30 AM.

Susan Sommer, former attorney for Lambda Legal, is now the general counsel for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said 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. 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.”

Camilla Taylor, acting legal director at Lambda Legal said that one of the cases Buckel spearheaded, Nabozny v. Podlesny, was the first time a federal court ruled that schools have an obligation to prevent the bullying of gay students.

I know people who know this man. As as a gay man, I know his efforts in his life have benefitted myself and others so, he deserves my gratitude. Rather than dismissing this as a shocking and horrific last act, I’m going to consider his words,

Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help.

I’m going to consider my own selfishness, privilege and inaction.

And at the same time, I’m also going to celebrate and be happy I’m alive. Life is short, and the world can be an awful place. But it is also beautiful.

Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry” in 1999.

(Top photo, YouTube; via NY Times)

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