Gay-rights lawyer dies after setting himself on fire to protest pollution | News | DW | 15.04.2018
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Gay-rights lawyer dies after setting himself on fire to protest pollution

David Buckel's body was found in a New York City park with an apparent suicide note in a nearby shopping cart. The legal activist was well-known for campaigning relentlessly for the rights of LGBT people in the US.

David Buckel died Saturday after setting himself on fire in New York's Prospect Park in the borough of Brooklyn, US media reported. His body was found by early-morning joggers.

The prominent lawyer, known for defending the rights of LGBT people, used his self-immolation to protest pollution.

"Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather," the 60-year-old said in a note left in a shopping cart found close to his body. He also emailed the text to several local media outlets, including The New York Times.

Read more: What will it take to clear the air in Berlin?

New York's Prospect Park's paths, grass and buildings are lightly covered in snow

Buckel's body was found near a jogging path in Prospect Park. Above, the park on a snowier day in early April 2018.

"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."

Buckel added that he hoped his death would lead to greater activism: "Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death." He exhorted others to go beyond donating to organizations to achieve effective change.

"Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help," the note received by The New York Times said.

Read more: The LA water residents don't dare drink

A lifelong legal activist

Buckel devoted a large part of his legal career to fighting for the rights of LGBT people. He had worked as a marriage project director at Lambda Legal, a non-profit organization that fights for full civil rights recognition for LGBT people and those living with HIV.

In a statement, Lambda Legal described Buckel's death as "heartbreaking" and the attorney as a "beautiful human being."

"This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice," the statement read. "He will be remembered for his kindness, devotion, and vision for justice."

Lambda Legal also highlighted key successes of Buckel's legal career, such as the unanimous ruling in 2009 by the Iowa Supreme Court allowing same-sex marriage — making the Midwest state only the third American state to recognize this right at the time of the decision.

Buckel's professional campaign for justice also inspired Hollywood filmmakers. He headed up Lambda Legal's defense team that secured justice from the state of Nebraska for the rape and murder of transgender man Brandon Teena in 1993. The case inspired the Oscar-winning 1999 movie "Boys Don't Cry," directed by Kimberly Pierce and featuring Hilary Swank as Teena.

After leaving Lambda Legal, Buckel focused his career on fighting for environmental causes, The New York Times said.

Read more: Edith Windsor, American gay marriage campaigner dies

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cmb/jlw (dpa, AP)

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