Friends of a small-town Alabama mayor who took his own life after a rightwing site published images of him wearing women’s clothes and makeup have told of the “dark days” he experienced following the publication of the photos.
FL Copeland, also known as Bubba, died by suicide on Friday in front of police officers who were performing a welfare check, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
His death came after the conservative site 1819 News published a story about him, titled: “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 alleged that Copeland, who was the Republican mayor of Smiths Station and served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Phenix City, used an online alter ego to post photos of himself in women’s clothing on Instagram and Reddit.
The story included the username for Copeland’s accounts, and reported that he appeared “in various outfits, some more racy than others”.
The site stated that 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”.
Following his death, former Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara spoke out about the death of Copeland, saying he experienced “dark days” after the first story was published.
“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 in a post on Facebook. “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. Bubba Copeland, May God bless your soul and forgive those who took pleasure in your suffering. They should all be ashamed!”
“His son is really having a hard time with it. His teenage son is taking it pretty tough,” he added.
Mr DiChiara also blamed Copeland’s death on those who mocked, and continued to ridicule, the late mayor.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said he also reached out to Copeland following the backlash he received. “It was a friend calling a friend,” Mr Jones said. “Let’s just say he was concerned about the article. I think ‘upset’ would be a good way of putting it.”
He described Copeland’s death as “tragic”.
Before his death, Copeland reportedly 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,” Copeland said ahead of his last sermon on 1 November.
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.”
The pastor is survived by his son and two daughters and his wife, according to an obituary posted on his church’s Facebook page.
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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.