An Alabama mayor and pastor has died by suicide shortly after a rightwing site published images of him wearing women’s clothes and make-up.
FL Copeland, called Bubba, was the mayor of Smiths Station and served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Phenix City. He died by suicide in front of police officers who were performing a welfare check, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
The conservative site 1819 News published a story about Mr Copeland on Wednesday. The Daily Beast noted that it was previously owned by the conservative Alabama Policy Institute and it’s edited by an ex-contributor to Breitbart News, a larger rightwing outlet.
The story was published with the headline: The secret life of Smiths Station Mayor and Baptist pastor F.L. ‘Bubba’ Copeland as a ‘transgender curvy girl’: ‘It’s a hobby I do to relieve stress’.
The story included the username for Mr Copeland’s accounts on Instagram and Reddit, and reported that Mr Copeland appeared “in various outfits, some more racy than others”.
The site stated that Mr Copeland used the name “Brittini Blaire Summerlin” and that he posted porn and shared advice on how to chemically transition.
1819 News reported that the Republican mayor confirmed that he operated the accounts, saying that it was a “hobby” for “getting rid of stress”.
1819 News wrote that Mr Copeland asked them not to out him, but they did so anyway. The Daily Beast notes that the mayor did not appear to have taken anti-LGBT+ stances.
Mr Copeland’s church reacted to the story, calling it “unbiblical behavior” in a statement. The pastor is reported to have told parishioners that the story didn’t show “who or what I am,” adding that it would “not cause my life to change”.
“This will not waver my devotion to my family, serving my city, serving my church,” Mr Copeland said ahead of his last sermon on Wednesday.
Mr Copeland said he had been the target of an “internet attack” and that “a lot of things were taken out of context”.
“Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people” had offered support, he said.
“Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt of humour because I know I’m not a handsome man nor a beautiful woman, either,” he added. “I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private, personal life.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said that on Friday, that officers attempted to pull over the pastor to perform a welfare check.
“Thank you all for your prayers and expressions of sympathy and support,” Mr Copeland’s church wrote on Facebook after his death. “First and foremost, we ask that you keep Pastor Bubba Copeland’s family in your prayers today, and in the days ahead.”
Larry DiChiara, the Phenix City School Superintendent, wrote on Facebook that he was a friend of Mr Copeland.
“Please [bear] 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 wrote. “I knew he was suffering so I reached out to him yesterday and offered him support and encouragement. He was appreciative and acknowledged that he had been going through some ‘dark days’ over the last few days. I just want to ask you people who thought it humorous to publicly ridicule him, ‘Are you happy now?’”
“What crime did he commit?” he asked. “Some of you people make me sick. I hope you are really proud. For our brother, F.L. BubbaCopeland, May God bless your soul and forgive those who took pleasure in your suffering. They should all be ashamed!”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.