Wednesday 8 November 2023

Secrets and Lies in Alabama

Fair warning: this story doesn't end well.

On Quora this week I came across the tragic story of Fred L. "Bubba" Copeland, the mayor of a small town in Alabama, in the United States. Copeland, 49, was a local businessman, the pastor of a small Baptist church, and was married with three children. Outwardly, he was a pillar of the community.

Pillar of the community: Bubba
Behind the scenes, things were somewhat different. Bubba led a secret life as a "transgender curvy girl" (his phrase). His fem name was Brittini Blaire Summerlin, and under this pseudonym she posted social media pictures of herself; exchanged flirty messages with other users; and wrote erotic transgender fiction.

Unfortunately Copeland's secret was discovered by far-right Alabama news website 1819 News. They didn't go public straight away, but approached him for an interview.

The original article didn't give a transcript of the interview (although it does give a link to the full text of one of his pieces of erotic fiction), so it's hard to get context around Copeland's statements, and I don't believe the article intended to present Copeland in any sort of fair (let alone positive) light, so we must make some inferences.

Copeland apparently said he's been dressing as a woman since his youth, for relief of anxiety and "getting rid of stress", and regarded it as a "hobby". He told 1819 News that he isn't in transition and isn't taking medical gender treatment. He said he only dressed at home, and compared it to cosplay and "dress-up".

Curvy: Brittini
Here are some remarks that 1819 News has quoted directly from him:

Copeland: Just my wife knows about it. It’s a hobby I do to relieve stress. I have a lot of stress, and I’m not medically transitioning. It’s just a bit of a character I’m playing. I don’t go out and seek solicitation or anything like that. (...) I don't do it in public.

It’s just a hobby that I have inside my own home that has not travelled outside of my home. I have not done anything outside of my own home besides post or publish anything on the internet, and that does not affect anything with inside (sic) my jurisdiction.

What I do in private life has nothing to do with what I do in my holy life. Does this have any effect on me being mayor, that I sometimes put on a dress or sometimes put on makeup? Does that have anything to do whatsoever with me being mayor or being a pastor?

According to the article, Copeland asked 1819 News not to out him, and he immediately deleted his social media accounts. There wasn't much likelihood of them agreeing to keep quiet about this: from their perspective, this must have been quite the scoop, and they gleefully published their article online on the 1st November 2023.

Ironically, the article also briefly discusses Copeland's political career. They quote him describing life as mayor of a small, close-knit community, from an earlier interview (my italics for emphasis).

Copeland: It really is like everybody knows your name. You know, everybody dies famous in a small town. That’s what it is. It is Friday Night Lights. It is mama’s apple pie. Our community is very, very low crime, very low drug abuse. Our number one problem is suicide. It is sad. I think a lot of it has to do with military. I think some of it has to do with social media and the reality of that. That’s the number one problem we have.

Wife's top: Brittini
On the 2nd of November, 1819 News posted a second article in which a visibly distressed Copeland addressed his parishioners from the pulpit about the revelation. They obviously had someone there to film the whole statement, which lasts over 6 minutes. That second article contains many titillating screen captures from Copeland’s social media feed.
Copeland: 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. I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private, personal life that has come publicly.

Poor Copeland was doing his best to make light of all this—but there's nothing funny about any of it. Understandably, he then went on to reiterate his devotion to his family, to his city, and to his church. He then read out the biblical passage “The Lord is my shepherd”.

The only tiny light of hope in any of this is that, during his address, Copeland mentioned that he had received many messages of support, despite the news only being public for a short time.

Copeland: …again, I’m sorry for what my actions have caused, and I’m thankful for the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who have reached out to me today, in love. And I know that there are others that have not. But just know I love you, and Jesus loves you as well.

Tragically, on the 3rd of November, 2023, only two days after 1819 News published their article, Bubba Copeland shot himself in the head with a pistol. According to internet sources he is survived by his wife, Angela (a teacher)  and a son and two daughters.

Not ashamed: Brittini
This story shocked me when I came across it, and it has prompted me to write a post about it. The news has gone worldwide, with many news outlets reporting what has happened. A Wikipedia page about Bubba Copeland has appeared. The editor-in-chief of 1819 News is a man called Jeff Poor, and he has been the subject of considerable social media outrage after Copeland’s death. reports that Poor gave a message of condolence in a radio interview.

Poor: Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Smiths Station, the parishioners of First Baptist Church of Phenix City and the victims and family of Mayor Copeland.

Just a minute: “victims”? What victims? There has never been any allegation—not even by Poor’s own news agency—that Copeland had any “victims”. This is an especially ill-chosen form of words, and makes what could almost have been a gesture of apology—however late, however vague—into an insult.

There are so many aspects of this whole business which are worthy of commentary.


I hold 1819 News fully responsible for the suicide of Bubba Copeland. There’s nothing to suggest that he was suicidal before their article outing him. By their own admission, they contacted him before they went public, and he asked them not to publish. They did anyway. If they hadn't gone public, he would likely have been able to continue living his double life.

Happier times: Bubba and Angela
They must have known that this would cause outrage among the local communities in Alabama. They must have known that Bubba Copeland would receive a great deal of hatred. I don’t think they intended him to actually take his own life, but I'm certain that they wanted him to feel named and shamed. They wanted to stir up ire among those people who believe in Republican Jesus, who they knew would be vocally critical of Copeland's lifestyle. They wanted a boost to their ratings—and no doubt, they've got a much bigger boost than they expected. Without this story, nobody outside Alabama would ever have heard of them.

Nothing to be ashamed of

This point lies at the heart of this issue. Copeland said that he had nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing to suggest that he was a bad mayor; a bad pastor, or a bad husband or father. How he dressed in his spare time is literally nobody’s business but his own.

I am still carrying decades of internalised transphobia, although gradually this burden is getting lighter. I have struggled to come to terms with my feelings, and tried to suppress them, before finally coming to embrace them, and I’m sure that Bubba Copeland had a similar journey. But that shame was still in there, and I'm certain that shame, that dissonance between who he was, and who people thought he was, is what caused him to take his own life.

I have republished the photos of Brittini because I think she looks really great, really happy, and because I think that dressing like that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I am absolutely certain that there are loads of other people secretly doing exactly what Copeland was doing. Some of them are undoubtedly very similar to him: Republican, prosperous, prominent in the community, God-fearing. Some of them may even have openly condemned Copeland, from their pulpits, or even just to the good ol’ boys in the pub. This behaviour is called signalling theory, and it's something that we all do, without exception.

Not amnesic: Dawn Ennis
Coming out at a time of your own choosing is extremely stressful. US Broadcaster Dawn Ennis (formerly Don Ennis) came out as transgender in 2013. Despite apparently considerable support from her colleagues, after only 3 months, she de-transitioned back to Don, and blamed the whole business on amnesia, of all things. I'm sure that she found it just too difficult, in a personal sense, to transition so publicly.

Of course, I didn't believe her, and I'm sure the excuse sounded pretty flimsy to everyone else too. However, less than a year later, she re-transitioned, and has been Dawn ever since, and seems to be doing quite well.

So if that was Dawn Ennis, who presumably thought very long and hard about coming out the first time, how much more difficult must it have been for Bubba Copeland, who had no time at all to deal with the fact that everyone he knew had seen his pictures and knew the secret that he had carefully guarded (as I did) for his whole life?


There's a lot of hypocrisy in all of this. How did 1819 News find out about Bubba? Did some other guy who likes wearing female lingerie and enjoys that sort of social media content recognise that Brittini looks a lot like Bubba, and decide it would be a good idea to out him publicly?

It seems Bubba's dressing had his wife’s knowledge and approval. That brown top with the large leopardskin pattern belongs to his wife—or at least, 1819 News found a social media picture of her wearing it.

Did she know about the flirty, sexual social media messages? I cannot say; it's between the two of them. I'm inclined to think she probably didn't. I definitely think it’s not a good look, but again, it’s his private business, and surely everyone has their various private sexual fantasies. Did he act out those sexual fantasies with other people? I'm inclined to think not, based on his speech to his parish. If there had been evidence of this, I'm certain 1819 News would have published it, and Copeland would likely have apologised for it. Again, it's not our business, but again, I'm absolutely certain that there are plenty of Republicans in Alabama who have broken their sacred marital vows.

My main question about hypocrisy though, is this one: did Bubba Copeland preach against trans people? I don't know; I cannot know. After his death, it seems to matter little, but Baptist preachers in the Deep South of the USA are known for their intolerant style of preaching. Perhaps Bubba was preaching that there's plenty of room around God's table for everyone. Perhaps he just avoided the topic entirely. But if he openly spoke out against gay and trans people from the pulpit, then I would be disappointed.

It has been reported recently that the gay dating site Grindr has been so disgruntled by the rise in anti-gay legislation in the US state of Florida that it has threatened to publish the names of every Republican legislator and party official who secretly uses their app. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a hoax. But the very fact that this report went viral demonstrates that there are a lot of people out there who think that the Republican anti-gay agenda is deeply hypocritical.

There but for the grace of God

One of the things which shocked me most was my own realisation that Copeland and I have quite a lot in common. We’re nearly the same age. I’ve got kids. I’m not a pastor, or a mayor, but I am a doctor, and I do have a secret fem identity, which has been there my whole life, and has an online presence, and provides me with pleasure and fulfilment and relief from stress and anxiety. And, while I'm more out than Brittini, and my various interactions with people have been incredibly positive and affirming, I am absolutely certain that there is an element within my community that would love to report, with feigned outrage, that there’s a cross-dressing doctor looking after vulnerable people in their local hospital.

As a result, I’ve been extremely careful. I had kept this blog for about seven years before I posted a clear photo of myself on it—even now, there are only a few. My Facebook account is private. There are only a couple of photos of me on Quora. (You’re not going to find flirty or erotic social media messages or photos out there from me—because that sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea).

Everybody dies famous in a small town

Seeing what happened to Bubba Copeland made me very upset on a number of levels. How awful that a decent family man was driven to take his own life, because he had the same feelings as I do, but lived in a society which is so intolerant of those feelings and behaviours. How awful that a "news" website found something about a person's private life, and deliberately chose to publish it, knowing it would ruin him. Bubba received "hundreds" of messages of support. How awful that he found he couldn't cling to those, and the love of his family, to help him weather this storm (was his wife's reaction part of his decision to commit suicide?).

Everybody dies famous in a small town—but Copeland's story has reverberated around the world, and drawn a lot of attention to his fate. There has been a backlash against what happened, which is obviously too late for Copeland, but might possibly help the next person this happens to. Ultimately, though, I don't think that backlash will be strong enough. Jeff Poor and the 1819 News will not be brought to account. And the secrets and the lies and the hypocrisy will continue, in Alabama, in the rest of the Deep South, and in other parts of the world where being trans is forbidden—until the next time.

Let me close by hoping that Bubba Copleand and Brittini Blaire Summerlin rest in peace.

Edit: my thanks to Lynn Jones for pointing out the tragic suicide of primary school teacher Lucy Meadows in the UK, in 2013. Meadows was hounded by the right-wing UK press; in particular the Daily Mail. She eventually took her own life at the age of 32. You can find more detail here.