The Slatest

Prominent Gay-Rights Lawyer Dies After Setting Himself on Fire in New York Park

David Buckel, the marriage project director of Lambda Legal, discusses the ramifications of the New Jersey State Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriages during a news conference in Newark, New Jersey, October 25, 2006.
David Buckel, the marriage project director of Lambda Legal, discusses the ramifications of the New Jersey State Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriages during a news conference in Newark, New Jersey, October 25, 2006.
REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky

A famous lawyer known nationally as one of the key champions for gay rights in the courts was found dead in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park early Saturday morning after setting himself on fire in what he said was a protest against the use of fossil fuels. “My name is David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” read a hand-written note left at the scene. “I apologize to you for the mess.” He also emailed the note to several media outlets.

Buckel, 60, was best known as a champion of LGBT rights and the lead attorney in Brandon v County of Richardson. In that case, a Nebraska county sheriff was found guilty of failing to protect Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered. Teena’s story was later turned into a movie, Boys Don’t Cry, which earned Hilary Swank an Academy Award. He was also the marriage project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal and worked on several important marriage equality cases. He later went on to focus on environmental causes.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckel wrote in the email that news outlets, including the New York Times, received. “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.”

Lambda Legal issued a statement mourning Buckel. “This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice,” said Camilla Taylor, director of constitutional litigation and acting legal director. “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.”