Famed gay rights lawyer sets himself on fire at Prospect Park in protest suicide against fossil fuels
Kathmandu (Pahichan) April 16 – A nationally known advocate for gay rights and the environment died Saturday in a fiery Prospect Park suicide, with his self-immolation meant as a wake-up call to save the planet.
The charred remains of David Buckel, 60, were discovered shortly after sunrise when firefighters responded to a 6:40 a.m. blaze in the southwest corner of the sprawling Brooklyn park.
“I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” read a hand-written suicide note left near the blackened circle of burned grass. “I apologize to you for the mess.”
A second, longer note — left with the first inside an envelope marked “For the police” — said Buckel doused himself in “fossil fuel” before starting the fatal fire as a metaphor for the destruction of the planet.
“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” he wrote. “A lifetime of service may best be preserved by giving a life . . . Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purchase in death.
“I hope it is an honorable death that might serve others.”
He compared his macabre demise with the suicides of those who set themselves afire to protest China’s occupation of Tibet.
“This is not new, as many have chosen to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see,” he wrote.
“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.”
Early morning joggers and bicyclists spied the burning body as smoke wafted through the air on the year’s first warm spring morning.
“I rode by (the body) several times,” witness Rochelle Krause posted on Twitter. “The first time I tried to convince myself it was a mannequin. But then the fire department showed up.”
Bicyclist Rahmin Pavlovic, 43, of Brooklyn, said Buckel’s choice of location was no coincidence.
“It’s definitely some kind of statement,” said Pavlovic. “He did it out in the open, right near the main entrance — not in some tucked away part of the park.”
The Brooklyn victim was burned from head to toe by the time the FDNY arrived.
“We were a little freaked out,” said a jogger who stumbled across the remains before the victim’s body was covered with a blue tarp. “It took us a little while to process it.”
Buckel took pains to make sure first responders knew who he was and what his motives were once they answered the 911 call.
He stapled his business card to the hand-written note and went into great detail in the second missive — a neatly typed explanation of his decision to take his own life.
The envelope holding both notes was placed inside a garbage bag, then left inside a shopping cart near the body.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote. “Our present grows more desperate, our future needs more than what we’ve been doing.”
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.
He was also a well-known environmental activist, working as the senior organics recovery coordinator with the NYC Compost Project, funded by the city Sanitation Department and based at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
“The news of David’s death is heartbreaking,” said Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal. “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.”
Buckel famously served as lead attorney in a lawsuit involving transgender murder victim Brandon Teena, who was raped and then killed in 1993. His story was later told in the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” starring Hilary Swank as Teena.
A county sheriff was found negligent in the killing for failing to protect Teena from his rapists — who returned and killed Teena once he went to authorities.
Police closed off a large patch of lawn as bewildered locals began to stream into the park. A plastic ID with Buckel’s name and photo was also recovered at the scene.
As a proponent of community composting, Buckel worked at the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm and served as senior Organics Recovery Coordinator for the NYC Compost Project.
The Brooklyn farm location composted 200 tons of organic waste per year.
The 1987 Cornell Law School graduate argued during his career against the Boy Scout ban on gays and for the establishment of a gay student club at a Utah high school.
He also helped a Pennsylvania woman win a lawsuit allowing her to place the epitaph “beloved life partner” on the headstone of her gay partner, and took on the IRS over tax breaks for gay nonprofits.
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