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Gay-rights pioneer David Buckel mourned in NY after suicide

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Attorney David Buckel speaks at a news conference after a New Jersey state appellate court heard arguments in a gay-marriage case on December 7, 2004, in Trenton, N.J. Buckel set himself on fire near ball fields and left behind a note explaining that his suicide was intended as a wakeup call about the environment. (April Saul/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

NEW YORK — A legal colleague of the gay rights lawyer who self-immolated in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park said Sunday that “there are other ways to fight for what you believe in.”

Adam Aronson was among many in the legal world shocked by David Buckel’s suicide Saturday morning. The noted gay rights lawyer and environmental activist set himself on fire near ball fields and left behind a note explaining that his suicide was intended as a wakeup call about the environment.

“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died. I think it’s tragic. I wish he hadn’t done it,” said Aronson, who worked with Buckel at Lambda Legal from 2001 to 2006.

“There are other ways to fight for what you believe in. I wish this hadn’t been the way that he had chosen to do it.”

“I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” he wrote. “I apologize to you for the mess. … My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

Aronson credited Buckel with playing a critical role in the gay rights movement.

“He helped change the landscape forever for LGBTQ people,” Aronson said. “His marriage rights work really helped transform the landscape in this country. We have (gay) marriage today in all 50 states.”

In recent years Buckel had become dedicated to environmental causes. He was the senior organics recovery coordinator with the New York City Compost Project, which is funded by the city Sanitation Department.

Buckel left behind his partner, Terry Kaelber, and a daughter, Hannah.

A 2006 story in Gay City News said Kaelber and Buckel were co-parenting their daughter with two women, Rona Vail and Cindy Broholm.

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