“I Apologize To You For The Mess”: Leading Gay Rights Lawyers Burns Himself To Death In New York Park Protest

Statue_at_Metairie_CemeteryThis weekend, the New York bar lost one of its most accomplished lawyers, David Buckel, 60.  Buckel reportedly burned himself to death in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Saturday morning. Buckel was the lead attorney in the lawsuit brought by Teena Brandon, a transgender man who was raped and slain in 1993 in Nebraska. The case inspired the 1999 movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”  He left a suicide note reading “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.”

Buckel also represented Jamie Nabozny in Nabozny v. Podlesny, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a challenge to “consistent and significant anti-gay bullying and abuse.” He also argued Lewis v. Harris in the New Jersey Supreme Court against the use of “civil unions” which he insisted assigns us a second-class status.”

Buckel also fought for the environment and was the prototypical public interest attorney.  His horrible death has shocked many across the country after his charred remains were found in the park. He left a suicide note in a shopping cart near his body that said he hoped his death was “honorable” and “might serve others.”

Those who worked with him posted their shock and grief at the news of his passing.

Lambda Legal


The news of David Buckel’s death is heartbreaking. This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice. http://bit.ly/2HmK1Ki 

Lambda Legal Mourns the Tragic Death of Former Marriage Project Director David Buckel

The tragic death of former Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director David Buckel has been reported by news outlets.


Buckel also reportedly sent a note to media by email that spoke to his commitment to the environment and made a connection to his grisly manner of death:  “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.”
The suggestion is that he burned himself to death to draw attention to the threat of fossil fuels. It was reminiscent of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Vietnam.

He leaves behind a daughter, Hannah Broholm-Vail, who he was raising with Terry Kaelber.  They co-parented with Rona Vail and Cindy Broholm.

He was a 1987 graduate from Cornell Law School.

David Buckel left a remarkable legacy of fighting for civil rights and the environment.  His suicide leaves a giant void in the communities that he served.  However, his legacy helped guarantee a new generation of young lawyers committed to these same public interest values.

218 thoughts on ““I Apologize To You For The Mess”: Leading Gay Rights Lawyers Burns Himself To Death In New York Park Protest”

  1. Sooo, my flaming f***** comment got pulled, and along with it, the Irish Poem I did, sooo here is the Irish Poem sans the “offensive” comment, or whatever it was that must have gone too far.

    Oh well, drama queens deserve Irish Poems, too!

    Buckel Up, In Flames???
    An Irish Poem by Squeeky Fromm

    A drama queen that we all know,
    Decided to put on a show!
    What a hero he’d be!
    For the whole world to see!
    And “Sly” could play him in Flambo!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  2. Martyrdom, a fool’s end. Every suicide is a martyrdom, an embrace of ideas, that is, brain patterns, over the existence of the creature which generates them. Ridiculous, and literally self defeating in every circumstance, however noble we pretend them to be.

    1. We should never bemoan a suicide. Indeed perhaps we should spit on the grave of every one who does it, so that the living are not tempted by the abominable sin that harms us all. Moreover, keep it illegal. If people could do it easily then it would multiply exponentially. Look at all the people on narcotics and antidepressants. They are all a bad choice away.

      The only exception I will take to my own remark here is that yes this is a hard way to go, like seppukku, and so you have to admire his will and strength, however stupid it otherwise may seem.

    1. Im not sure about climate change but I am sure there is a consumerism and social atomization driven by individualism and financialization, that harms us all. Climate change is real enough but, I believe he was alluding to anthropogenic climate change, which most scientists agree upon. But if it is suicidal, then why should “we” not do it if we think we should, just like the guy who offed himself? Thus his act is paradoxical and perplexing in the moral sense. Societies do seem to be marching steadily onward the path to willful self destruction. I think I agree with the dead lawyer about that.

  3. “Gay rights” and other “minority rights” are unconstitutional as they infringe on “citizen’s rights.” The Constitution does not differentiate rights by any criteria. Citizens and only citizens have rights. Similarly, “hate crimes” are unconstitutional violations of the freedoms of speech, thought, belief and assembly. Aberrant anti-American radical activists have taken control of this country of “good” Americans, whom the Founders understood to be necessary.

    1. Yes, we know, you want to tell them all to “get off of my lawn”! As an antidote for your pitiful ineffectiveness at convincing anyone of your archaic, century-old credo, I suggest you read the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and then consult some of the case law and scholarly writing interpreting the scope, breadth, and parameters of the 14th Amendment. Were you to do so, you may come to discover that what determines whether an act or statute is “unconstitutional” has mainly to do with the text of the Constitution and its various amendments, and not what some loser-loner screeches through a bullhorn at a tinfoil-hat convention.

      this is to “but he sounded so convincing, and had a neato mustache disguise too” georgie

      1. Mark M:
        George’s point is a good one. The first time the SCOTUS engaged in de jure discrimination by denominating “suspect classes” of persons and according them greater rights than the majority it started down the long, treacherous path to favoring one faction over another. Something Madison warned about in the Federalist Papers which incidentally is another centuries old credo that predates the 14th Amendment. This fascination with compelled diversity and social (as opposed to legal) equality is fool’s gold as it elevates above human nature what never was and never will be. It’s even more insidious since the arrived upon solution to both is inequality and the denial of democratic solutions imposed by unelected judges. This is something no put upon majority has ever accepted in world history. Disparate treatment unrelated to merit and based upon the government picking winners and losers always leads to bloodshed. Let’s hope we pull back before that happens.

        1. Hear, hear! What he said in addition to a generous measure of the “manifest tenor.”

          And now a word from Mr. Madison. Go ahead, Mr. Madison.

          Ahem…thank you.

          “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

          – James Madison

        2. The flip side of that coin is that genius of the Founding Fathers established an independent judicial branch to protect the 49% (or less) from the tyranny of the majority. Moreover, there already has been bloodshed because historically the 49% (or less) weren’t adequately protected from the tyranny of the majority.

          To mespo

          1. OK, get rid of that too. Isn’t that cry nowadays? No one has claimed perfection and humans seem to instant work to undermine the processes they create.

              1. Mr Kurtz – although I do not know if you can pass the Turing test, I have had enough conversations with shloss29 to know that he/she is not a bot.

          2. Mark M. – you might want to take a look at your copy of the Constitution again to see why the courts were established.

            1. Pro tip: People who work with words use particularity when choosing their words. Along that train of thought, reading comprehension and the ability to objectively parse writings are skills which are necessarily developed through use. I recommend you re-read my post and identify where I referenced the Constitution.

              this is to “I just threw some sh*t up there to see if it sticks” paulie

              1. Marky Mark Mark – pro tip: You are not a pro.

                Pro tip: Learn to follow directions. Read the Constitution on the courts.

          3. Actually only one founding father “founded” an independent judiciary and that was John Marshall. The rest thought Congress would be king with the President as general/prime minister. Courts were never supposed to be an unelected super-legislature but alas they are with many acting contrary to the popular will.

            1. In America, COMMERCE IS KING. That’s what the War of Independence was about and that’s why John Marshall established judicial review, understanding, on behalf of the plutocracy of his time, that it was necessary for the protection of the plutocracy’s posterity, that there be a firm federal supremacy enforced by the unelected judiciary. He was a genius, whether you like him or not.

              1. I suspect I know more about John Marshall than you do but I will say that I have no ability to read his long dead mind as apparently you do.

              2. Federal supremacy?

                Per the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1930, federal expenditures in 1929 were as follows:

                Military: $790 million
                Civilian agencies & Indian reservations: $1,026 million
                Veterans benefits: $500 million
                Federal employee pensions: $230 million
                Debt service: $678 million
                Postal operations: $776 million

                That amounted to 3.8% of gross domestic product. As you can see, about 2/3 of that falls under the rubric of ‘defend the shores and deliver the mail’.

            2. As designed; see my prior post on “tyranny of the majority.”

              to mespo

          4. Um, no. Courts are there to adjudicate individual cases. Judicial opinions are properly interstitial law when they are binding precedent and persuasive authority when they’re not. The understanding incorporated into judicial review is that courts need to choose between competing sources of authority and constitutions >> statutory law >> administrative rules with case law elaborating on any one of these. That presumes, of course, that a a precept articulated in case law is fairly discoverable in constitutional text. And, in contentious cases nowadays, it seldom is. “Landmark decisions” make a collection of trash and the odd treasure.

  4. “I apologize to you for the mess.”

    One may not apologize for acts of God or nature.

    1 or 2 percent of God or nature’s product is defective with regard to sexual orientation.

    The Atlantic

    “Americans Have No Idea How Few Gay People There Are.”

    “Surveys show a shockingly high fraction think a quarter of the country is gay or lesbian, when the reality is that it’s probably less than 2 percent.”

    “The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau found that homosexual couples constitute less than 1% of American households.”

    1. Squeeky – I heard Comey’s book sales are being purchased by his publisher.

  5. “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide.”

    Too bad he didn’t specify exactly what he was protesting. Having read through and participated in the comment section all morning, it only just occurred to me that most are under the impression that the supposed “protest” is related to his being involved in “Gay Rights.”

    That seems like a pretty one-dimensional interpretation of the guy’s life. It sort of assumes that “Gay Rights” is all the guy ever thought about — as if he didn’t care about animal cruelty, hunger, the cost of medicine, the price of cable TV — other things that many people care about.

    Assuming that the “protest” could only have been related to “Gay rights” turns the guy into a caricature of a human, not a real human.

    Very shallow idea of what life is all about — his life and the lives of others.

    Anyway, if I should ever decide to kill myself in protest and leave a note of explanation, I hope I remember to mention what it is that I’m supposed to be protesting.

    And this all reminds me of something my friend, Bob, once said not long before his untimely death some 32 years ago: “If you’re gonna kill yourself, just do it. Leaving a note behind is stupid.”

    This coming from a writer.

    1. Turley wrote, “Buckel also reportedly sent a note to media by email that spoke to his commitment to the environment and made a connection to his grisly manner of death: ‘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.’ It was reminiscent of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Vietnam. The suggestion is that he burned himself to death to draw attention to the threat of fossil fuels.”

      William Bayer wrote, “Too bad he didn’t specify exactly what he was protesting.”

      William Bayer had previously quoted Turley as stating “It was reminiscent of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Vietnam.”

      William Bayer then said, “Disagree. Only someone who’s self-possessed and has ZERO respect for what Buddhism is about and what Vietnamese monks were doing would write that ridiculous sentence.”

      The sentence of Turley’s with which Bayer disagreed was written immediately after Turley’s quotation of David Buckel that specifies exactly what David Buckel was protesting. The probability that Bayer did not read the sentence immediately before the sentence with which Bayer disagreed is exceedingly low. And yet, Bayer claims that David Buckel did not specify exactly what he was protesting. The most charitable explanation for Bayer’s error is that Bayer is so highly reactive in his thinking that Turley’s sentence about the Buddhist monks in Vietnam effectively erased from Bayer’s memory the immediately preceding sentence in which David Buckel specifies exactly what he was protesting. Other, less charitable, explanations are readily available. However, the evidence of Bayer’s high degree of reactive thinking is rife on just this thread, alone.

      P. S. Funerary contests remain the tell-tale sign of suffering addiction. Suffering junkies are truly pathetic creatures. Bayer is a suffering junkie. Draw the inference.

        1. Diane – brave words for someone too gutless to stand behind their own name. William and I stand behind our names, as to Darren and several others.

  6. Why don’t veterans who were turned away from VA’s for care and do this on the VAMC’s property get the same condolences, media and blog attention?

    1. Well, as for this particular blog — I’m guessing that he was a lawyer is the common denominator. Probably would’a got no mention at all otherwise.

  7. Jon: does it bother you that your blog attracts people like the above? I’m out of insults to describe people like this because they are truly shameless, disgusting people.

    1. Sqekkky is one of Darren Smith’s preferred posters so guessing your answer is a loud “NO”.

    2. I’m out of insults to describe people like this because they are truly shameless, disgusting people.

      When you look in the mirror, just who do you see?

    3. “Squeeky” is a hateful little girl who believes that she’s clever and funny. She is neither.

        1. Squeeky – I got the Flambo reference, however, I thought the “drama queen” was a bit much without knowing more about him.

      1. That is as incoherent and irrational as saying the Sun is neither bright nor warm.

        Sorry, Analous, the characteristics of physical axioms, such as Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter, are immutable.

      2. anonymous – Squeeky is wonderful, clever, funny and a writer of some funny poetry.

    4. Natacha – JT allows you to post your msgs on here, so he has a high tolerance for free speech, However, I doubt that you can stop insulting people on this thread. I am not going to hold my breath.

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