NEW YORK CITY: Noted LGBT Rights Attorney Burns Self To Death In “Protest Suicide” Against Fossil Fuels

The New York Daily News reports:

A nationally known gay rights attorney and green activist set himself on fire and burned to death in Prospect Park early Saturday in a bizarre ecological protest suicide. The charred remains of David Buckel, 60, were discovered shortly after sunrise when firefighters responded to a report of a fire in the southwest corner of the sprawling Brooklyn park, police sources said.

A suicide note indicated Buckel used “fossil fuel” in the gruesome suicide as a metaphor for the self-destruction of the planet. “My name is David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” read a hand-written message left at the scene. “I apologize to you for the mess.” Buckel, who lived near the park, was a renowned lawyer and activist who worked with the Marriage Project for the gay civil rights group Lambda Legal. reports:

Buckel’s legal career included serving as a counsel on a 2006 case argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court that guaranteed equal rights to gay couples in the state. “More protections for our families are always better than fewer, and Lambda Legal will work hard to continue our successes in furthering those protections, as we did in New Jersey with our court case,” he wrote in a 2007 article for Lambda Legal.

Buckel also served on a case involving the mother of a transgender man who was raped and murdered. The mother sued a Nebraska sheriff for failing to protect her son, Brandon Teena. The court ruled in favor of Teena’s mother, JoAnne Brandon, finding the county negligent in Teena’s death. Teena’s story was represented in the movie Boys Don’t Cry starring Hillary Swank and in the documentary The Brendan Teena Story.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden lists Buckel as their “Senior Organics Recovery Coordinator for the NYC Compost Project.” According to the Etsy corporate blog, Buckel also worked for Brooklyn’s Red Hook Community Farm. In the 2008 clip below, Buckel talks about the above-cited New Jersey civil rights case.

UPDATE: Lambda Legal reacts.

The tragic death of former Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director David Buckel has been reported by several news outlets today and Camilla Taylor, Director of Constitutional Litigation and Acting Legal Director, issued the following statement.

The news of David’s death is heartbreaking. This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice. 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. This is a tragic loss for our Lambda Legal family and for the social justice movement. Our hearts go out to all who knew him. David was a beautiful human being who was universally kind to everyone at Lambda Legal, committed to his clients, and devoted to our work.

David was a brilliant legal visionary. David helped create Lambda Legal’s focus on LGBT youth. His work on Nabozny v. Podlesny resulted in a landmark victory for a high school student forced to drop out of school as a result of brutality perpetrated by other students and inaction by his school administrators. It was the first time a federal court had ever held that schools have an obligation to prevent anti-gay bullying, and put schools across the country on notice that they were responsible for putting a stop to it. 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.

As Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project Director, he led our work nationwide seeking the freedom to marry. He brought Lewis v. Harris, resulting in a New Jersey Supreme Court victory that recognized the tangible and dignitary harms to same-sex couples and their children from being excluded from the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

He championed filing a marriage lawsuit in state court in Iowa in 2005, at a time when only Massachusetts permitted same-sex couples to marry. When the Iowa Supreme Court delivered us a unanimous victory in 2009, Iowa was only the third state in the country where same-sex couples could marry. The decision vindicated David’s firm belief that we could win such cases even in the heartland, and propelled us to victories elsewhere.

David also led Lambda Legal’s work to secure justice and accountability for the murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was brutally raped and then killed by his rapists after law enforcement failed to intervene. Our thoughts and condolences go out to all those who loved David. We have lost a movement leader, a colleague, and a friend. We will honor his life by continuing his fight for a better world.