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Successful Gay Rights Lawyer Sets Himself On Fire In Protest Suicide

He wanted his death to inspire real change…

On Saturday morning, the body of 60-year-old David S. Buckel, a prominent gay rights lawyer was found badly burned near Prospect Park’s baseball fields in Brooklyn. A handwritten suicide note reading “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize for the mess.” was also found.

According to the New York Times, in another note that was found near the body as well as emailed to local news outlets, Buckel wrote “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.”

In his note, Buckel went on to write about the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make every effort to make a difference. “Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Buckel wrote, adding that passive activism like donating to organizations is not enough. He wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.

Buckel had recently turned his energies and legal expertise to environmental causes, but he is better known for spearheading major same-sex marriage cases in Iowa and New Jersey. He was also the marriage project director for Lambda Legal, a nonprofit organization that promotes civil rights for the LGBT community.

Notably, Buckel worked on a lawsuit on behalf of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993. He was also the lawyer for Jamie Nabozny, a gay man who sued his former public school in Wisconsin for failing to prevent or protect him from consistent anti-gay bullying and abuse at the hands of his classmates. The verdict was that schools do have a responsibility to protect students from anti-gay abuse.

Furthermore, Buckel was the attorney in Lewis v. Harris, a 2006 New Jersey case that ruled that same-sex couples should get all the same benefits and responsibilities of marriage. He was also the marriage project director when Iowa became the third state in the U.S to legalize same sex marriage.

In a statement, Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s acting legal director, said Buckel was a “brilliant legal visionary” who was universally kind to all he worked with. “This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice,” Taylor said. “David was an indefatigable attorney and advocate, and also a dedicated and loving friend to so many. He will be remembered for his kindness, devotion and vision for justice.”

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