Alabama mayor, pastor dies by suicide after anti-LGBTQ+ attack

Editor’s Note: This story contains sensitive information. F. L. “Bubba” Copeland. (Photo via First Baptist Church of Phenix City/Facebook)

F.L. “Bubba” Copeland was the duly elected mayor of Smiths Station, a town in Lee County, Alabama. It is part of the neighboring Columbus, Ga., metropolitan area. Copeland was also pastor of the First Baptist Church of Phenix City, which sits across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus.

By all accounts “Bubba,” as he was known in this small town of 6,756, was very popular, respected and beloved but early Nov. 3 he died by suicide after a far-right publication published photos and a story detailing the pastor-mayor’s private and secret life.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told media outlets that Copeland, a married father of three, “took his own life” around 5 p.m. According to the sheriff, at around 4:15 p.m. CT, his deputies received information regarding the mayor needing a possible welfare check. Deputies found Copeland in the Beulah community area, where a slow pursuit began. Officials say the mayor turned onto Lee Road and pulled over. When he exited his vehicle, he produced a handgun and used it to take his own life.

The tragic death of the pastor-mayor stemmed from an article published by writer Craig Monger on the far-right wing media website 1819 News earlier in the week. 1819 News is a website that was once owned by the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative group that is staunchly anti-LGBTQ and has filed multiple lawsuits against same-sex marriage.

Monger’s article disclosed Copeland’s secret online social media alter persona Brittini Blaire Summerlin, which listed Copeland self labeled as a “transitioning” transgender woman. Monger went on to publish screenshots of other photos and entries including some photos that 1819 News alerted readers with the caution: “WARNING: EXPLICIT PHOTOS.”

Copeland told Monger that he could confirm that he operated the various social media accounts and it was him who was featured in the photos. He claimed it was only a means of “getting rid of stress” and called the postings a “hobby” and a “fantasy.” The pastor-mayor said his erotica and transgender persona was “purely fiction.”

According to Monger, after the interview, Copeland promptly deleted the accounts and asked them not to be made public due to his family and position as a Baptist pastor.

The day the article was published online, that evening Copeland delivered a sermon from the pulpit at his church telling his congregation:

“The article is not who or what I am … I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private and personal life that has become public. This will not cause my life to change. This will not waiver my devotion to my family, serving my city, serving my church,” Copeland said.

He then read from the 23rd Psalm telling parishioners, “God will always protect you, take care of you,” Copeland said. “He will see you through anything, absolutely anything.”

WTVM in Columbus reported that reacting to the news of Copeland’s suicide, some people in the community said they were saddened by the news in so many ways.

“Things that were obviously private came out publicly and quite frankly unexpectedly. I can’t imagine, again, what that must be like for the mayor, his family and for anyone who’s been affected by this,” said Kris Patton. “Probably the most heart-wrenching thing about it is the effect that it is going to be on the community.”

“What he did in his personal life… his business, you know,” said Jennifer Schmitt.

Reaction from the Christian anti-LGBTQ right groups, however, was unsympathetic. 

“We have become aware of the alleged unbiblical behavior related to the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Phenix City. We are praying for the leaders of the church family as they seek to determine the truth concerning these accusations. As the people of God, we pray for the pastor and his family as well. We are in consultation with the Russell Baptist Association’s leadership as they endeavor to assist the First Baptist family during this critical time of need,” the Alabama Baptist State Convention and Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions said in a statement to the Alabama Baptist, a news outlet for the state’s Baptist churches.

Former Phenix City Schools Superintendent Larry DiChiara angrily posted on his personal Facebook page:

“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. I just want to ask you people who thought it humorous to publicly ridicule him, ‘Are you happy now?’ What crime did he commit?” 

Prominent South Florida pastor and Biblical scholar Kevin M. Young posted on X, formerly Twitter: “This pastor committed suicide not too far from here today. We must end LGBTQ+ persecution.”

Hemant Mehta, who authors the progressive website the Friendly Atheist, researched Copeland prior to learning of his suicide on Friday. Mehta noted; “There’s a story making the rounds about an Alabama preacher/mayor who secretly dresses in drag and adopts the persona of a trans woman on social media. The problem? It’s not clear he’s a hypocrite. If he’s not a bigot, why is he being outed?”

Mehta and others who dug into Copeland’s background found absolutely no evidence of anti-LGBTQ animus from the pastor-mayor’s social media and other sources. Mehta writes:

“As far as I can tell, there’s no evidence that Copeland himself has ever participated in those right-wing attacks. I have yet to see a sermon clip where he rails against drag queens or trans people. I can’t find a single policy he’s promoted as mayor that would make life worse for the LGBTQ community. (All of those things may exist, to be clear, but I haven’t found them yet.)

“The article in 1819 News never once mentions a single example of his hypocrisy … which seems like an odd omission given the way the article is framed. If this was a slam-dunk story, all those images of Copeland dressing as a woman would be followed by screenshots of, say, his anti-LGBTQ social media posts. But you won’t find anything like that in the article.

“If there’s no proof of hypocrisy, then why the hell is this a story?!”

The National LGBT Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here:

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