Smiths Station, Alabama – November 7, 2023
The tragic apparent suicide of F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, the mayor of Smiths Station, Alabama, and a pastor at First Baptist Church Phenix City, serves as a somber reminder of the potential perils associated with the outing, the act of disclosing a person’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity against their will.
Last Friday, the 1819 News, a conservative Alabama news outlet, published photographs of Copeland wearing women’s clothing and makeup, followed by a subsequent article on the same day detailing a violent fictional story shared online by Copeland, featuring a woman he knew in real life. The report also mentioned that Copeland posted images of minors and women online without their consent.
The pictures released in the initial article were sourced from various social media accounts that Copeland operated using the alias “Brittini Blaire Summerlin,” portraying himself as a girl in the process of transitioning to transgender status. In his interview with 1819 News, Copeland acknowledged operating these accounts and appearing in the photos but explained they were an outlet for “getting rid of stress,” considering them a “hobby” and a “fantasy.” He deleted the accounts after the interview but requested that the screenshots not be made public, a request that was denied.
Tragically, two days after the publication on November 1, Copeland, aged 49, was found dead by apparent suicide.
Following the article’s release, Copeland addressed his congregation during a prayer service, where he spoke about being subjected to an “internet attack.” In a recorded message posted on his church’s YouTube page, he apologized for any embarrassment caused by the public exposure of his private life. Copeland pledged that this revelation would not alter his commitment to his family, city, and church, expressing gratitude for the grace of God and the willingness to forgive. He concluded by reaffirming his love for his family and apologizing for the consequences of his actions.
Mental health professionals emphasize that disclosing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent can result in significant adverse psychological consequences for the person involved. Such practices, or even the threat of them, can result in deep shame, humiliation, and feelings of vulnerability. Stories of public outings can discourage people from coming out in the future.
Over the past few decades, the outing of public officials has become less common, partly due to the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals and increased awareness of the potential harm caused by outings. However, outing has a long history in and outside of government offices.
Historically, during the “Lavender Scare” of the late 1940s to the ’60s, thousands of federal employees were forced to resign due to perceived homosexuality. The Lavender Scare was part of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s effort to purge individuals with suspected communist ties from the U.S. government.
One example of the tragic consequences of the outing is the case of former Senator Lester Hunt, who was coerced into resigning from his term and announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election after his son’s arrest for solicitation. Hunt died by suicide shortly afterward. Similarly, Andrew Ference, an administrative assistant at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, was interrogated about his relationship with his male roommate, leading to his forced resignation and subsequent suicide.
While the LGBTQ+ community has witnessed positive changes and greater acceptance over the years, Copeland’s apparent suicide serves as a stark reminder that the consequences of outings can still be severe, especially for individuals with something to lose or those living in conservative areas.
In modern society, being outed is typically less threatening, unless there are specific circumstances, as in Copeland’s case, where the potential consequences can be dire. Despite progress, the tragic ending of F.L. “Bubba” Copeland’s life underscores the importance of respecting an individual’s right to come out on their terms, highlighting the lasting impact of the outing on an individual’s mental health and well-being.