Why? Why? Why?

David Buckel, a lawyer who was prominent for his work on behalf of LGBTQ groups, died after setting himself on fire in a New York City park.

In a suicide note left near his body, Buckel said he had used “fossil fuel” to ignite the fire and wanted his death to symbolize what humans are doing to Earth, the New York Daily News reported. Buckel emailed copies of the note to several news organizations, including the New York Times.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckel wrote in his note, according to the Times’ copy of the note. “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 worked with several environmental groups, including doing volunteer work with the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm and acting as the senior organics recovery coordinator for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s NYC Compost Project.

But his more prominent achievements came in his work as a civil rights lawyer.

Buckel was a senior counsel and director of the Marriage Project for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ advocacy group. He argued in many landmark cases involving LGBTQ youth, including a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and its former ban on gay members.

Camilla Taylor, director of Lambda Legal, said in a statement to HuffPost that their organization will honor Buckel’s life by “continuing to fight for equality.”

“The news of David’s death is heartbreaking,” Taylor said.

“David was a brilliant legal visionary. David helped create Lambda Legal’s focus on LGBT youth,” Taylor continued, detailing Buckel’s work on a case that led a federal court to rule that schools “have an obligation to prevent anti-gay bullying.”

I know that people can feel strongly about an important issue, the sense of despair that they might have that that no progress is being made on it, and the need to do something dramatic to galvanize action. Setting oneself on fire as a form of protest has been done in the past, many times by Buddhist monks in Vietnam protesting the US military invasion of that country. But given that Buckel was doing so much good as a civil rights attorney fighting for marginalized groups, I find it hard to accept that this action will lead to a better outcome than him continuing his work.

Whichever way you look at it, it is tragic.


  1. ionopachys says

    What a waste. I wonder what else was going on that led him to this. I’m actually of the opinion that suicide can be a rational decision under some circumstances. I myself am determined never to go senile (we’ll see if I feel the same way when the time comes). But unless he knew for a fact his life was already effectively over, I can only agree that he would have done more good keeping up his life’s work.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 ionopachys

    . I myself am determined never to go senile.
    Not to worry, you will never notice, at least going by the example of the currant US president.

    More seriously, I think it was a very unbalanced thing to doe. We in North America do not have the Buddhist self-immolation tradition. Still he may have thought that such a drastic action may gain a lot of influence.

    Cynically, I think he should have done this outside of the White House.

  3. says

    If you’re thinking of killing yourself to make a political statement, maybe you should kill the other guy first. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do but if we’re talking about stupid ways to send a message, it’s the road not taken.

  4. says

    I think this does communicate a very important and rarely expressed truth -- even political issues that seem remote and academic to the majority of people (such as climate change) can be extremely personally felt by some people. I feel what this guy felt, maybe 5% as badly, but still. I cannot feel bemused or haughty or anything but profound despair at the way our species is doing. Dun like it. Not exploding over it, but where is the room for hope at this point?

    My point is that when you see someone being made more sad or upset than you are by some political discussion (on a personal level -- not blogs or journalism), maybe you should ease up and try to make that person feel better, even if you have to do it by distracting them. I had to learn to not discuss hopeless global issues around my boyfriend, and sometimes I benefit from silence on a subject myself.

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