A noted New York City lawyer who made his mark fighting legal battles for gay rights committed suicide Saturday by setting himself on fire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
In a suicide note, David Buckel said he was killing himself to protest climate change.
A “green” activist who was a pioneering lawyer for gay and transgender rights — including in the notorious “Boys Don’t Cry” rape murder case — committed suicide by setting himself on fire Saturday morning in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in a grisly act of protest against the ecological destruction of the Earth.
David Buckel, 60, left behind a charred corpse and a typed suicide note that said he was burning himself to death using “fossil fuel” to reflect how mankind was likewise killing itself, police sources said.
He left the note in a manila envelope marked “To The Police,” recovered from inside a black metal pushcart he discarded at the scene.
“Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result,” Buckel wrote in his note, which he also sent to the New York Times.
“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
He added, “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.”
Visitors to the park were horrified when they found his body, and contacted police.
“It was just lying there, on its back, knees slightly bent like someone would lie on the sand at the beach,” said Irena Ryjova, 44, a rollerblader who passed by at about 7 a.m., less than an hour after the immolation.
“It’s a shock; it’s a shame,” said mom Dana Lall as she shepherded a crowd of Catholic-school kids past the horrific scene, en route to a baseball game.
As a senior attorney with Lambda Legal defense, Buckel was a lead lawyer in a 2000 lawsuit on behalf of transgender “Boys Don’t Cry” rape-murder victim Brandon Teena, helping the family recover additional damages from neglectful Nebraska law enforcement.
The 1999 movie earned Hilary Swank an Oscar for her portrayal of Teena.
“It’s a very important case, not only within Nebraska but nationally,” Buckel had told the Daily Nebraskan newspaper in 2001, after helping win an $80,000 judgment.
He also fought for the right of gay high school students in Salt Lake City to organize a club, and argued against discrimination in the Boy Scouts of America and the military.
“The thoroughness, the detail and the careful reasoning in the opinion means that other courts around the nation will be paying attention,” he said.
“The news of David Buckel’s death is heartbreaking,” the group tweeted Saturday night.
“This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice.”
Buckel was also behind a number of cases involving gay rights.
In another pivotal case, Buckel won a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in 2006 acknowledging that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual married couples.
He also fought for the right of gay high-school students in Salt Lake City to organize a club, and argued against discrimination in the Boy Scouts of America and the military.
More recently, Buckel worked as an urban gardener and ecologist with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, helping run what he called the largest composting program in the country to use only renewable sources of energy.
“There’s no denying that sticking with renewable resources means a lot of elbow grease with pitchforks and shovels,” he wrote in a 2016 article on the Botanic Garden Web site. “But it is incredibly satisfying work.”
A 2014 US Department of Agriculture update on efforts by Buckel and others to establish a composting operation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard referred to Buckel as “one of the most experienced community composting experts in New York City.”