David Buckel

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David Buckel
Born(1957-06-13)June 13, 1957
Died (aged 60)
Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
Cause of deathSelf-immolation
Alma materUniversity of Rochester (1980)
Cornell Law School
Known forLGBT activism; environmental activism

David Stroh Buckel (June 13, 1957 – April 14, 2018) was an American LGBT rights lawyer and an environmental activist. He died on April 14, 2018, by self-immolation as a protest against the use of fossil fuels.


Buckel was a senior counsel and marriage project director at Lambda Legal, the American organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.[2]

In 1996, Buckel represented Jamie Nabozny in Nabozny v. Podlesny, a case heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit regarding the protection Nabozny did not receive while at school. Buckel represented Nabozny in his claims stemming from "consistent and significant anti-gay bullying and abuse."[3]

In 2000, Buckel was the lead lawyer for the estate of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered in Nebraska, when Teena's family recovered damages against negligent law enforcement officers.[4] Buckel stated, "It's a very important case, not only within Nebraska but nationally."[5] The story inspired the 1999 biographical film Boys Don't Cry.[6]

In 2006, Buckel argued before the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Lewis v. Harris that "for the government to use the label 'civil union' is a considered choice of language that assigns us a second-class status."[7]

Fox News called Buckel "a pioneering lawyer for gay and transgender rights."[8] In a statement to the Huffington Post, Camilla Taylor, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, stated, "His thoughtful and engaging advocacy broke through many stubborn misconceptions and showed it was possible and necessary for our movement to speak up for bullied, ostracized LGBT young people."[2] Susan Sommer, a former attorney for Lambda Legal, called Buckel "one of the architects of the freedom to marry and marriage equality movement."[9]

At the time of his death, Buckel was senior organics recovery coordinator with the NYC Compost Project.[10] He previously was a volunteer coordinator of Added Value Red Hook Community Farm, where he practiced composting.[11] He was nominated for a Solid Waste Association of North America Unsung Hero Award for his work in composting and for the environment.[12]

Buckel wrote Guidelines for Urban Community Composting, a guide for composting in urban areas.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Buckel graduated in 1980 from the University of Rochester, after which he worked as a home health attendant with hospice patients.[1] In 1987, he graduated from Cornell Law School.[14]

Buckel and his husband, Terry Kaelber, were raising a daughter, Hannah Broholm-Vail. They co-parented Hannah with Rona Vail and Cindy Broholm.[15][16]


On April 14, 2018, Buckel's body was found by a passerby in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. It appeared that he had burned himself to death. Next to the body was a note in a manila envelope marked "To the police". The text of the note, which also was emailed to The New York Times, stated: "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."[17]

Buckel had left his identification on a lanyard nearby and stapled his business card to the letter to aid in identification, in which he wrote to the police, "I apologize to you for the mess." A folding shopping cart with an empty plastic bag of the type used to haul soil in it was nearby; as the earth around Buckel was burned in a nearly perfect circle, The New York Times speculates that he had made a ring of soil to prevent the fire from spreading.[1]


  • Logue, P. M.; Buckel, D. S. (1996). "Fighting Anti-Gay Abuse in Schools: The Opening Appellate Brief of Plaintiff Jamie Nabozny in Nabozny v. Podlesny". Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. 4: 425.
  • Buckel, David S. (26 July 2016). "Legal Perspective on Ensuring a Safe and Nondiscriminatory School Environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Students". Education and Urban Society. 32 (3): 390–398. doi:10.1177/0013124500323007.
  • Buckel, D. S. (2005). "Same-Sex Couples: Defining Marriage in the Twenty-First Century: Government Affixes a Label of Inferiority on Same-Sex Couples When It Imposes Civil Unions & Denies Access to Marriage". Stanford Law & Policy Review. Stanford Law School. 16: 73.
  • Buckel, D. S. (2006). "Lewis v. Harris: Essay on a Settled Question and an Open Question". Rutgers Law Review. Rutgers Law School. 59 (2): 221.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Correal, Annie (28 May 2018). "What Drove a Man to Set Himself on Fire in Brooklyn?". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b "David Buckel: US lawyer sets himself on fire in climate protest". BBC. April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  3. ^ Levenson, Eric; Milian, Gabriela (April 15, 2018). "Prominent gay rights lawyer sets himself on fire in protest suicide". CNN. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Damages in Boys Dont Cry Murder Argued Before Nebraska Supreme Court". Lambda Legal. January 9, 2000. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  5. ^ Webster, Teri (April 15, 2018). "David Buckel, 'green' activist and LGBT rights attorney, commits suicide by setting himself on fire". The Blaze. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  6. ^ "'Boys Don't Cry' Lawyer Dies by Setting Himself on Fire in Park". Hollywood Reporter. April 15, 2018. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  7. ^ Nejaime, Douglas. "Framing (In)Equality for Same-Sex Couples". UCLA Law Review. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  8. ^ Hogan, Gwynne; Woods, Amanda (April 15, 2018). "David Buckel, prominent gay rights lawyer, burns himself to death in New York to protest global warming". Fox News. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  9. ^ Mays, Jeffery C. (April 14, 2018). "Prominent Lawyer in Fight for Gay Rights Dies After Setting Himself On Fire in Prospect Park". New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  10. ^ "David Buckel". Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  11. ^ "NYC: Reaching True Sustainability With Community Composting". The Organic Stream. August 4, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  12. ^ "Introducing... David Buckel". Solid Waste Association of North America. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  13. ^ Buckel, David. "Guidelines for Urban Community Composting" (PDF). Institute for Local Self Reliance. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  14. ^ Wilensky, Joe. "Alumna nurtures Cornell connections through Brooklyn community composting project". Ezra Update.
  15. ^ Sandoval, Edgar; Gioino, Catherina; Brown, Stephen Rex (April 15, 2018). "Lawyer who killed himself in fossil fuels protest 'put his heart and soul' into all his work, colleague says". New York Daily News. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  16. ^ Humm, Andy (May 1–7, 2006). "Sage Celebrates Kaelber's Nine Years at Helm". 5 (19). Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  17. ^ "Prominent gay rights' attorney dead after apparent self-immolation, police say". CBS News. April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 15, 2018.