April 16, 2018 at 11:08 am PST | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocates mourn former Lambda Legal attorney
David Buckel, gay news, Washington Blade

David Buckel (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

LGBT rights advocates are mourning the sudden death of the former director of Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project.

The New York Times reported David Buckel, 60, set himself on fire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., early Saturday morning.

Media accounts indicate Buckel, who had become an environmental activist after he left Lambda Legal in 2008, left a suicide note near the area in which his remains were found. Buckel also emailed a copy of it to the New York Times and other media outlets.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” wrote Buckel in his email the New York Times said it received from him. “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 was the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that paved the way for same-sex marriage in New Jersey. He also championed the filing of a similar lawsuit in Iowa in 2005.

Lambda Legal in a press release notes Buckel helped the organization “create” its focus on LGBT youth, which included its work to secure a landmark federal court ruling that said school administrators have an obligation to stop anti-gay bullying.

Buckel also represented the mother of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Nebraska in 1993. The Nebraska Supreme Court in 2001 ruled a county sheriff did not do enough to protect Teena after he testified against the men who raped him before his death.

Buckel also represented James Dale, who challenged the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of banning openly gay scouts and troop leaders. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dale, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 overturned the decision.

The Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board in 2015 voted to end its organization’s ban on openly gay leaders. The organization two years earlier began to admit openly gay scouts.

“David was an indefatigable attorney and advocate, and also a dedicated and loving friend to so many,” said Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation Camilla Taylor, who is also the organization’s acting legal director, in a statement. “He will be remembered for his kindness, devotion and vision for justice.”

Susan Sommer, a former Lambda Legal attorney who is the general counsel for New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, told the New York Times that Buckel was “one of the architects of the freedom to marry and marriage equality movement.” National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter on Sunday described Buckel as “a very good man.”

“Very sad to learn of the loss of David Buckel, who will be remembered for his extraordinary contributions to the advancement of LGBTQ equality,” said the Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders on its Twitter page. “Our thoughts are with his loved ones, with our colleagues at Lambda Legal and with all whose lives he touched.”

Buckel is survived by his partner, Terry Kaelber, and a daughter.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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