An Alabama mayor and preacher killed himself Friday, two days after being outed by a conservative news site for having a secret life he shared online as a transgender woman.
F.L. Bubba Copeland, 49, who was the mayor of tiny Smiths Station, population 6,756, and pastor at First Baptist Church in nearby Phenix City, shot himself at approximately 5 p.m. in front of sheriff’s deputies who were following his car after law enforcement officials were asked to do a welfare check, Lee County Sheriff’s Office said.
Copeland was a married father of three.
Deputies spotted Copeland driving his truck on a county road and began following him. After a slow speed pursuit, the Alabama mayor pulled over.
“He exited the vehicle, produced a handgun, and took his own life,” the sheriff’s office said.
1819 News article
Copeland’s suicide followed a Wednesday article on 1819 News, a news site formerly owned by the conservative think tank the Alabama Policy Institute, that described Copeland’s secret life online as a transgender woman, Brittini Blaire Summerlin.
Summerlin’s Instagram and Reddit accounts were deleted shortly after the 1819 News story was published.
Summerlin described herself as a “transitioning transgender curvy girl, that loves smiling, clothes, and shoes!”
In various photos, a smiling Summerlin wore women’s outfits and clothes.
‘It’s a hobby I do to relieve stress”
Summerlin referred to herself as a “thick transgender woman” and encouraged other trans women to go on hormone replacement therapy.
She also posted transgender porn as well as transgender fiction and erotica that she apparently wrote, according to 1819 News.
The Alabama mayor told the site, which published the report on Wednesday, that his online alter ego was a harmless “hobby” that did not go beyond his home.
“Just my wife knows about it,” Copeland said in the article. “It’s a hobby I do to relieve stress. I have a lot of stress, and I’m not medically transitioning. It’s just a bit of a character I’m playing. … I don’t go out and seek solicitation or anything like that.”
“What I do in private life has nothing to do with what I do in my holy life,” Copeland told 1819 News. “Does this have any effect on me being mayor, that I sometimes put on a dress or sometimes put on makeup? Does that have anything to do whatsoever with me being mayor or being a pastor?”
Bubba Copeland responds to article
Wednesday night, Copeland delivered his regular sermon at the First Baptist Church of Phenix City and briefly addressed the article.
“I have been the object of an internet attack,” Copeland said. “An article that was written about my capacity as the mayor (and) capacity as a pastor. The article is not who or what I am.”
He said the online material was an “attempt of humor.”
“Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt of humor because I know I’m not a handsome man nor a beautiful woman either,” Copeland said. “I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private, personal life that has come publicly.”
Friends react to Bubba Copeland’s death
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.
“Please bare with me while I vent. I am so angry right now and heartbroken,” DiChiara wrote in a Facebook post. “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.”
DiChiara 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 investigating the death.
Former senator calls out 1819 News
Former U.S. Senator from Alabama, Doug Jones, a Democrat, wrote about Copeland on social media.
“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,” Jones wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“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.”
In 2019, the Alabama Mayor led Smiths Station through recovery after a horrific March tornado with winds up to 170 mph hit the area, killing 23 people and injuring 93.
Copeland met with then-President Donald Trump, who’d come to the area to observe the devastating fallout of the storm.