David Buckel, 60, a prominent LGBT rights lawyer with Lambda Legal died after setting himself on fire in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Saturday. Buckel sent messages to multiple news outlets, including The New York Times, explaining his intention to set himself on fire to protest the world’s usage of fossil fuels at the expense of the environment.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckel wrote the Times in an email. “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.”
“A life of privilege requires actions to balance the harm caused, and the greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility,” Buckel added.
“For if one does not leave behind a world better for having lived in it, all that remains are selfish ends, sometimes wrapped in family or nation.”
Buckel’s suicide echoed dramatic protests by self-immolation from past years overseas. Buddhist monks burned themselves to death to protest a repressive regime in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
In more recent years, Tibetans have done the same to protest Chinese rule over Tibet. Buckel cited the Tibetan self-immolations in his note, the Daily News reported: “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.”
Buckel was the lead attorney in Brandon v. County of Richardson arguing on behalf of Brandon Teena, a murdered transgender man whom Buckel argued successfully that a country sheriff failed to protect.
Lambda Legal issued the following statement on its website.
“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,” the group said in a statement.
“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.”