Prominent gay rights lawyer dies after setting himself on fire in New York Park

David Buckel left a suicide note in a shopping trolley near his body that said he hoped his death was ‘honourable’ and ‘might serve others’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 12:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 7:10pm

A prominent gay rights lawyer has died after setting himself on fire in a New York park to protest pollution and the use of fossil fuels.

The body of David Buckel was found in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park early Saturday. He left a note in a nearby shopping trolley that he also emailed to several news outlets including The New York Times, the paper reported.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote in the email sent to the Times.

“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,” the email continued.

Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action, writing: “Honourable purpose in life invites honourable purpose in death.”

Police confirmed that the body of a 60-year-old man had been found in the park after he set himself on fire but could not confirm the contents of the note.

Buckel was well known as a defender of gay rights and had worked as marriage project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal, an organisation that fights for LGBT rights.

After leaving the organisation he became involved in campaigning for environmental causes, according to the Times.

Lambda Legal said his death was a “tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice,” describing him as an “indefatigable lawyer” and a “beautiful human being.”

In a statement, the organisation said he had won several key court victories including in the Lewis v Harris case, in which the New Jersey Supreme Court recognised the harm done to same-sex couples and their children from being excluded from the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

He also led Lambda Legal’s work to secure justice in the Brandon v County of Richardson case, which concerned the rape and murder of transgender man Brandon Teena by two known criminals after a Nevada sheriff failed to intervene.

Teena was later portrayed by Hilary Swank in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry.

Tribune News Service, Associated Press