Renowned Gay Rights Lawyer Self-Immolates in Protest of Climate Policy

David Buckel, a lawyer who spent much of his life campaigning for gay rights, died after setting himself on fire in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park early Saturday. A pair of suicide notes from Buckel described the act as a “protest suicide” intended to “bring some attention to the need for expanded actions” on climate change policy and the use of fossil fuels.

According to eyewitnesses interviewed by the New York Daily News, Buckel’s burning body was near a main entrance to the park, highly visible to Saturday-morning joggers and cyclists. Witnesses described mistaking the burning body for a mannequin before emergency services arrived.

Buckel left two notes — one describing his suicide as a protest, and a second expanding on his motivations. In the second, a copy of which was sent to the Daily News, Buckel wrote that “my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” suggesting he had used gasoline or a similar fuel in his suicide.

“Polution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote. “Our present grows more desperate, our future needs more than what we’ve been doing.”

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Recent years, and even recent days, have seen alarming signs that climate change is progressing even faster than scientists had previously projected. Climate scientists this week announced findings that an Atlantic Ocean current that helps equalize global temperatures has slowed drastically, in part because of human-caused climate change, potentially leading to disastrous climate shifts in Europe.

Meanwhile, U.S. political leadership has rolled back efforts to limit the carbon emissions that cause climate change. The Trump administration announced in June of last year that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accords. Earlier this month, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency — led by the embattled, free-spending Scott Pruitt — announced that it would roll back fuel economy standards set under President Barack Obama.

Buckel, 60, had played a prominent role in the fight for gay rights in America for decades. He was the lead attorney in a lawsuit involving Brandon Teena, a transgender murder victim who was portrayed by Hilary Swank the film Boys Don’t Cry, as the Daily News reported.

He had led the push for gay marriage rights at Lambda Legal, a national organization devoted to LGBT issues. In a statement Saturday, Lambda executive Camilla Taylor described Buckel as a “brilliant legal visionary,” particularly praising his work on the cases Nabozny v. Podlesny, which in 1996 established that schools had a responsibility to protect gay students from harassment; and Lewis v. Harris, which helped expand gay marriage rights in the U.S.

In his suicide notes, Buckel compared his death to that of Tibetan monks who have committed suicide in a similar manner to protest Chinese rule over the region.

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