LGBT civil rights lawyer sets himself on fire in 'protest suicide'
On Saturday morning, New Yorkers in Prospect Park came across a horrific sight. One witness, Irene Ryjova, was in the park early that day. She told the New York Post that she saw the body on lying on the floor, "like someone would lie on the sand at the beach". However, on closer inspection, it was revealed to be the deceased body of David Buckel, who had committed suicide.
Buckel was a prominent LGBTQ civil rights lawyer, who had died to make a statement about climate change. The 60-year-old set himself on fire in the busy New York park, leaving a suicide night behind to explain his actions. He wrote that he used "fossil fuel" to set himself aflame, as a symbol of what humankind is doing the Earth.
"Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather," Buckel wrote in 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."
Before his death, Buckel was senior counsel and director of the Marriage Project for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ advocacy group. He has been involved in numerous landmark cases involving youth in the LGBTQ community, most notably his role as the lead attorney in a lawsuit regarding Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Nebraska. Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Brandon in the 1999 film Boy's Don't Cry.
In the note, Buckel referenced the Tibetan monk protesters who set themselves on fire in protest the Chinese occupation in Tibet, arguably an image that has captured resistance and protests more powerfully than any other.
"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.
"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."
Camilla Taylor, who is the current director of Lambda Legal, told the HuffPost that they will honor his life by "continuing to fight for equality".
"The news of David’s death is heartbreaking," she said in her statement.
"David was a brilliant legal visionary. David helped create Lambda Legal’s focus on LGBT youth," Taylor continued, going into detail about Buckel's work on a case that led a federal court to rule that schools "have an obligation to prevent anti-gay bullying". She concluded:
"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."
After news of his death spread, there was an outpouring of grief and supportive comments online.
It's a tragic shame that Buckel's life ended in such a way, knowing all the good he could have done for the world if he were still alive. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.