An Alabama community is in shock after the tragic death of a local leader following their involuntary outing as a transgender woman when a local conservative news blog posted photos of them embracing their secret gender identity.
Smiths Station Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, who also served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Phenix City, was found dead Friday evening, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones confirmed to Columbus, Ga., CBS affiliate WRBL.
“I can confirm he took his own life,” Jones said.
Besides his political and religious affiliations, Copeland, 49, was known locally for owning a small grocery store in the Alabama backwaters. Recent scrutiny emerged when Alabama news blog 1819 News reported Wednesday that Copeland had been engaging in explicit online activities, allegedly posting pornography, memes, and photos of themself in women’s clothing online under the pseudonym “Brittini Blaire Summerlin.”
The report shared screenshots from Copeland’s now-deleted Instagram and Reddit accounts, where the mayor openly explored their transgender identity. Copeland also reportedly shared transgender-specific fiction and erotica that they authored, according to published reports. Copeland discussed hormone replacement therapy in some of their online posts.
The Advocate honors people’s chosen names and pronouns. Because Copeland did not publicly come out before their death, The Advocate is referring to them as the person they presented publicly.
The revelation quickly spiraled into a community-wide controversy, eliciting many empathetic and derogatory reactions. One of Copeland’s friends, former Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara, expressed his anguish and support for Copeland on social media after the mayor’s death.
In a Facebook post, DiChiara wrote, “Please bare with me while I vent. I am so angry right now and heartbroken. I witnessed a good man be publicly ridiculed and crucified over the last few days…to the point that he just took his own life today.” He revealed that he had reached out to Copeland offering “support and encouragement,” and Copeland had acknowledged going through some “dark days.”
In a pointed message to those who ridiculed Copeland, DiChiara asked, “Are you happy now? What crime did he commit? Some of you people make me sick. I hope you are really proud.”
He ended his post with a prayer for Copeland: “For our brother, F.L. Bubba Copeland, May God bless your soul and forgive those who took pleasure in your suffering. They should all be ashamed!”
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Lee County District Attorney’s Office are currently investigating the death.
The situation took a tragic turn when deputies responded to a request for a welfare check on Copeland, spotting them driving their truck on a county road near their grocery store. Upon attempting to pull Copeland over, they stopped, exited their truck, and fatally shot themself, Jones told WRBL.
Former U.S. Senator from Alabama, Doug Jones, a Democrat, wrote honestly about Copeland, whom he knew.
“I am so saddened at the death of my friend Mayor Bubba Copeland. He was a good man and a great mayor who led the small town of Smith Station through the tough times of a devastating tornado a few years ago. I toured the destruction with him, helped him navigate the FEMA recovery efforts and made sure that he was able to plead his case directly to President Trump,” the former senator wrote on X, previously known as Twitter.
He continued, “”It is sad and disgusting how he was treated by the @1819News for personal decisions however misguided they might have been. We live in a mean, bitter world where the self righteous tend to throw the largest stones and the @1819News is the perfect example.”
The distressing details surrounding Copeland’s demise highlight the stark reality of the societal pressures and the often harsh judgments individuals may face when their private lives, particularly concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity, are involuntarily thrust into the public domain, especially in conservative communities.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect comments from Sen. Doug Jones