David Buckel, Gay Rights & Environmental Activist, Dies In Protest Suicide

| Resist!

Above:David Buckel in 2006. Photograph by Jeff Zelevansky for Reuters

“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.”

David Buckel, a nationally known advocate for gay rights and the environment died Saturday in self-immolation suicide in a wake-up call to save the planet.

Buckel was 60 years old. His body was discovered shortly after sunrise at 6:40 a.m when firefighters responded to the fire. Buckel lived a life in service to social and enviornmental justice. Even in his death he sought to serve others.

The NY Daily News reports he left two hand written suicide notes in a shopping cart nearby the blackened circle of burned grass. The first was a short apology where he wrote “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.”

The second longer note explained why he doused himself in “fossil fuel” before starting the fatal fire as a metaphor for the destruction of the planet.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. 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 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 also sent an email to the NY Times and other media outlets which was received at 5:55 a.m, where he discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so.

The Times reports, “Privilege, he said, was derived from the suffering of others. ‘Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,’ Mr. Buckel  wrote, adding that donating to organizations was not enough.” Noting that he was privileged with “good health to the final moment,” Mr. Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action.

The Independent reports, “As a lawyer, he had garnered praise for his role as the lead attorney in a lawsuit involving Brandon Teena, who was raped and murdered in Nebraska. His life and death were the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1999 indie film Boys Don’t Cry, which earned Hilary Swank an Oscar. Mr Buckel also spearheaded same-sex marriage cases in a number of states across the US.”

The Guardian reported, “Buckel also served as marriage project director at Lambda Legal, a national organisation that fights for LGBT rights, where he was the strategist behind same-sex marriage cases in New Jersey and Iowa.”

The Independent highlighted the comments of Susan Sommer, a former Lambda Legal attorney, who is now the general counsel for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in New York. Sommer described Mr Buckel as being “all about justice, but he was also all about what it means to be human.” She said “He was a very smart and methodical lawyer. He knew his craft and his trade, and was strategic in how to build the blocks toward a sweeping victory.”

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund issued a statement from Camilla Taylor, Director of Constitutional Litigation and Acting Legal Director, which stated that Buckel’s death

 “is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice.

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.

Our hearts go out to all who knew David. He was a beautiful human being who was universally kind to everyone at Lambda Legal, committed to his clients, and devoted to our work.

David was a brilliant legal visionary.”

  • LegendaryWingsZero

    This is an intensely sad state of affairs and I wish the best to those that knew Mr. Buckel in this difficult time.

    I empathize with his frustration at the pace of change and the
    entrenched interests and broken ideology pushing back against beneficial
    progress, I must say that I think his means of protest actually leads
    to a net loss for his cause.

    Self-immolation is an
    act of incredible conviction, as we have seen in Buddhist monks and
    others in repressive regimes – the kind of places where people are being
    killed on a daily basis and there is very little hope that any other
    sort of protest will be allowed, much less have a chance of actually
    changing things. The results of which must horrify and galvanize enough
    of the populace that they take to the streets, no longer fearing (and
    likely, aware of very real ) threats to their own lives to demand
    change; International condemnation and solidarity is helpful, but not
    the driving force.

    For a wide variety of reasons,
    what I described above is not likely to apply nor to happen within the
    USA, leading to meaningful change. I could spend a whole post
    explaining many of the differences, but suffice it to say I doubt we’ll
    see the same reaction here.

    Mr. Buckel clearly dedicated
    his life to fighting for people and planet. As an attorney, he had the
    education and position to directly effect change in a way many others
    could not. In his lifetime, we’ve seen enormous progress for LGBT
    issues, where he himself played a critical role. We’re also seeing
    more interest than ever in alternatives to fossil fuels and
    organic/regenerative agriculture; lets not forget that more than 20
    years ago, there was no USDA Organic standard and the average American
    didn’t even know of a place to buy healthful and Organic foods nearby,
    if they didn’t live in certain areas. On the the political side of
    things, look at the progress of Bernie Sanders campaign and how the 2018
    and 2020 races have galvanized progressives and put real progressive
    issues and ideas (ie universal public healthcare, single payer) into
    the consciousness on a wider scale than before. There are teacher
    strikes, various movements with progressive causes marching in the
    streets, and other forms of direct action.

    Things may not
    be changing anywhere near as fast as I and many others would prefer,
    but we are not living in a society where there is no possibility for
    forward progress but to give one’s life to send a message. If Mr.
    Buckel was as reported in good health and especially given his
    relatively young age, I have to think that especially with this
    profession, education, and interests, he could have contributed to
    progress in meaningful ways for years to come as well as inspiring
    other generations with his experiences and expertise. It seems a
    waste for him to give his life in the fashion he did, because I think
    him living on could have done much more for the causes he was
    passionate about than his immediate death.