Discover more from Friendly Atheist
After being humiliated on a conservative website, drag-wearing pastor dies of suicide
F.L. “Bubba” Copeland wasn't a hypocrite. Why did a right-wing media outlet ruin his life?
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
On Friday night, F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, a Baptist pastor and mayor of Smiths Station, Alabama, took his own life.
A sheriff said that they were asked to perform a welfare check on Copeland that afternoon. They ended up spotting him driving his truck and a “slow pursuit” car chase ensued. It ended after Copeland pulled his car to the side of the road, stepped outside, and made use of a handgun.
All of this happened days after a right-wing website, 1819 News, published an article “exposing” Copeland for dressing in drag and pretending to be a transgender woman online. He had begged them not to publish the piece. They did it anyway.
As I explained on Friday morning, though, that article was more of a hit job than anything else. Revealing the secret life of a public figure when that person shows no signs of hypocrisy and isn’t hurting anybody serves no purpose.
Since I raised my concerns, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence suggesting I was off-base.
Copeland was not the pastor of a conservative Baptist church. First Baptist Church in Phenix City is not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention; it’s connected to the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group that supports church/state separation and offers member churches autonomy when it comes to theological matters.
That’s why you won’t find any signs of anti-LGBTQ bigotry on the church’s Facebook page. No one has produced a sermon showing Copeland denouncing LGBTQ people. Church members may not be proud allies, but they’re hardly the kind of bigots we have to worry about.
Even as mayor, there’s no sign that Copeland had pushed forward any kind of discriminatory policies that might hurt gay or trans people.
There’s a picture online of Copeland meeting with then-President Donald Trump after a natural disaster in his Alabama community, but the caption didn’t suggest any kind of praise or devotion to Trump. Copeland posted it because it showed the unexpected path his life had taken as mayor of a small town.
The bottom line is that his private hobbies were nothing more than a form of release. A way to indulge in mild fantasies on what he believed were anonymous websites. Even if he kept that secret from his family, it’s hardly the worst sin a public figure has ever committed. It just didn’t make any sense to “out” him. I still believe that the only reason 1819 News published the piece was so readers could mock a public figure who enjoyed drag, not because the revelation benefitted the people in Copeland’s church or town.
And now 1819 News has blood on its hands.
There’s a direct line between that irresponsible piece and the tragedy that befell Copeland’s family days later. The site hasn’t addressed its own culpability in any way. It merely offered prayers for anyone impacted by Copeland’s death, which seems disingenuous. The person who wrote the piece, Craig Monger, hasn’t said anything in response either.
Copeland’s church issued a perfunctory statement asking for prayers:
On the day the article was published, Copeland said in a sermon, “This will not waver my devotion to my family, to serving my city, [and] to serving my church. I'm thankful for the grace of God [and] the willingness to forgive. I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
In the 48 hours that followed, it’s possible he didn’t feel he could escape the embarrassment and shame. But he was right in that sermon. He had nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just so damn sad to think he may not have seen a path forward when there were so many people who would have accepted him without a loss of respect or negative judgments. I would love to say this tragedy will lead to some soul-searching among the kind of people who jumped at the opportunity to ridicule him last week, but I have no reason to think they’ll change.
Copeland had three children. He had a wife. But a conservative outlet decided his secret was too salacious to keep hidden from public view.
They got what they wanted. Copeland will no longer dress in women’s clothing.
Please share this post on Reddit, Facebook, or the godawful X/Bird app.