Phil Garber
8 min readNov 10, 2023

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Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Anti-Woke Drag Queen Crusade Leads To Pastor-Mayor Suicide

Danica Roem, elected a Virginia state senator last Tuesday, has been outspoken as the nation’s first transgender state senator.
F.L. “Bubba” Copeland was in his second term as mayor of a small southern town in Alabama. Since he was elected in 2016, the Republican mayor, preacher and grocery store owner had been busy running the town and never talked in public about his very personal issue of cross dressing or of transgender rights.

A local, right wing newspaper with ties to national far right figures, saw it differently and outed the 49-year-old Copeland, publishing photos of him in drag. It fit in perfectly with the right wing’s obsession with so-called woke issues.

Roem is proud of her transgender status and is ready to begin her post as a state senator.

But Copeland is dead, having committed suicide after the story was published identifying him as a cross dresser.

The stories of Roem and Copeland point out matters of grave societal ignorance and bias about sexual identification. But the two are very different. As a transgender person, Roem is in the midst of a cultural revolution to understand different modes of sexuality. Copeland, however, represented a distinctly different way of life that remains misunderstood and often ridiculed or worse.

Before this week, the most publicity involving Copeland came in the aftermath of a March 3, 2019, tornado that ripped through eastern Alabama, including the town of Smiths Station, Ala., where Copeland was mayor since 2016. At least 23 people were killed in Smith Station and the area by the E.F. 4 tornado, the second highest level on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado intensity.

Copeland met with then-President trump and GOP Senators Doug Jones and Richard Shelby as they toured the damaged communities in the following days. In honor of his service during the tornado, the East Alabama Chamber of Commerce awarded Copeland the “Individual of the Year of Award” in 2020.

Copeland was born in Smiths Station, a town of about 5,000 people located in Lee County, in an area called Dixie Alley. He graduated from Smiths Station High School, famous as the alma mater of the country music singer, Conway Twitty,

Copeland was the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Phenix City and owned a small grocery market in Salem, The Country Market. He had a hotel and restaurant management degree from Auburn University and was married to Angela Simpson Copeland, a teacher and cheer coach at Smiths Station Junior High School. He had one biological child, a son from his first marriage; as well as two stepdaughters from his second marriage.

His long career in public service, started when he served on the Lee County Board of Education from 2005 to 2016. In 2012, Mayor LaFaye Dellinger announced that she would not seek reelection after her term ended in 2016. Dellinger endorsed Copeland as her replacement for mayor and Copeland won the Aug. 23, 2016 election, defeating Buster Bessant to become the second mayor in the city’s history. Copeland was re-elected in 2020.

Copeland’s life suddenly imploded. He had a secret that was scandalized by the conservative news website “1819 News” that published a report a week before Copeland’s death exposing his life as a man who dressed in drag and posted under the pseudonym Brittini Blaire Summerlin on various social media platforms. Postings by 1819 News on Reddit showed a selfie of Copeland wearing a blond wig and makeup. The story also was extensively covered by Blaze Media, a conservative outlet that was originally founded by right wing conspiracist, Glenn Beck.

The story that outed Copeland was written by Craig Monger on the 1819 News website that was once owned by the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative group that is staunchly anti-LGBTQ+ and has filed multiple lawsuits against same-sex marriage.

The CEO of the 1819 News is Bryan Dawson of Wetumpka, Ala., the site of “Alabama’s greatest natural disaster” when a meteorite about 1,000 feet wide, hit the area about 80 million years ago.

1819 News began publishing in October 2021, and was previously a fully-owned subsidiary of the Alabama Policy Institute. The Alabama Policy Institute (API) is a nonprofit, ultra-conservative think tank located in Birmingham, Ala. It was founded in 1989 as the Alabama Family Alliance. In February 2015, the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alabama Citizens Action Program filed a lawsuit asking the Alabama Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court addresses the issue.

The president and CEO of the Alabama Policy Institute is Stephanie Smith, a member of the board of the far right organization, “Moms for Liberty.” The director of fiscal policy, Justin Bogie, was the budget policy advisor for trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and was a member of the presidential transition team.

The Alabama Policy Institute also owns the right wing radio station, Rightside Radio.

The situation involving Copeland was not the first time that 1819 News has delved into the anti-woke, drag queen controversy. In October 2022, Dawson was a guest on a Rightside show to discuss a Huntsville, Ala., middle school teacher who performed after hours for a student story hour, dressed as a drag queen, at a local animal shelter. Dawson discussed how the teacher’s behavior was “inappropriate because it attempts to sexualize children, and how school administrators need to have the courage to confront such behavior as inappropriate.” Right wing media and personalities also have incorrectly linked cross dressing and drag with pedophilia.

The far right, anti-LGBTQ organization, Libs of TikTok, first reported about Miller, noting that he appeared as Miss Majesty Divine at a Sept. 24 Drag Queen Story Time at Hard Knocks Rescue & Training, Inc. — an animal shelter in Huntsville — and that the reading was livestreamed and posted to the Hard Knocks Facebook page.

The drag performance was a benefit for the Shoals Diversity Center, an LGBTQ advocacy group. The show was canceled days after the shelter that hosted the benefit received numerous threats for holding the Drag Queen Story Hour. Jim Miller, the teacher who led the show, was placed on paid leave.

The 1819 News site claimed that Copeland referred to himself as a “thick transgender woman” and encouraged other transgender people to go on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It also reported that Copeland was an author of transgender fiction and erotica.

Before the 1819 News report was released, Copeland allegedly told the website that his behavior was a “hobby” for “getting rid of stress.” Copeland also asked that the article not be published, citing his family and his position as a pastor.

Like much of right wing press reports, the so-called expose was inaccurate and filled with false stereotypes.

Copeland apparently dressed in women’s clothes at times but he was not transgender. Transgender Studies Quarterly reported that cross-dressing, in its contemporary Western sense, is the wearing of clothing not belonging to one’s birth-designated sex.

“This simple (and simplistic) definition belies a raft of social, psychological, and philosophical issues,” the quarterly reported.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual notes that a cross dresser is a heterosexual male who receives erotic stimulation from wearing women’s clothing.

The manual notes that cross-dressing has a long history dating back to Roman and Indian cultures, but it has gone through different levels of prohibition. Some cultures, including India, the Philippines, Thailand, and some aboriginal tribes, have a space and role for cross-dressing members. Contemporary Western cultures by and large do not tolerate it.

“Often a cross-dresser, especially one with experience, will receive little or no sexual frisson from cross-dressing and certainly will not maintain a state of arousal during the entire episode,” the quarterly reported. “The ‘committed cross-dresser’ is interested in discovering more about his her-self and exploring his feminine side than he is about sexual release.”

Women and men have been involved in cross-dressing, but there is often a different judgment for each. For example, women who have passed as soldiers have often been praised and applauded.

“Men, on the other hand, have no such justification, since by cross-dressing in a patriarchal society they are placing themselves lower on the power ladder, a move that is specifically against the very idea of masculinity and hence traitorous,” the quarterly reported.

Men who are attracted to femininity seek a temporary abandonment of the responsibilities and burdens of masculinity as construed societally.

“The bi-gender system outlines rigid rules of behavior for each gender, and not everyone is comfortable in their assigned role all the time,” the quarterly reported.

According to the report, “Contemporary western society is slowly making room for and improving the lot of the transsexual. More laws are being eased, and more accommodations made, though there is still very far to go.”

“The cross-dresser, however, receives little protection or benefit from these advances, because the cross-dresser, unlike the transsexual, is in constant violation of the bi-gender regime,” the report said. “The bottom line is that in Western Euro-American cultures there is a sense in which the cross-dresser, especially the out cross-dresser, is the true gender outlaw. Unfortunately, the censure laid on cross-dressers keeps the majority firmly in the closet where they are politically unable to become the sort of force needed by the transgender movement.”

After Copeland’s death, notes of grief and support to Copeland’s family were posted on the church Facebook page.

“In honor of our pastor’s memory and to support his family during this time of grief, we will be suspending our Wednesday night prayer service this week to gather with friends and loved ones of the late F.L. ‘Bubba’ Copeland,” the post said. “Thank you for your understanding, compassion, and unity as we come together to honor the life of ‘Bubba.’”

Parishioner Lindsey Holmes posted on the church Facebook page:

“He didn’t kill himself, he was killed by the judgment of people who should have been loving and supporting him and trusting his heart. You know who you are,” Holmes posted.

Another parishioner, Jennifer Owens Whitaker, said that Copeland was “blackmailed and shamed to the point where he felt there was no reason to live. Adult bullying is what happened here and I am broken-hearted for him and his family.”

Two days before his death, Copeland addressed his congregation at the First Baptist Church for the last time about what he referred to as an “internet attack.”

“The article is not who or what I am. Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt of humor because I know I’m not a handsome man, nor a beautiful woman either,” said the pastor who apologized “for any embarrassment caused” by his “private personal life that has gone publicly.”

“This will not cause my life to change,” Copeland said. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of things that were said were taken out of context. In conclusion, I love my family. They’re number one. And, again, I’m sorry for what my actions have caused.”

The Alabama Baptist State Convention and Alabama Baptist State Board of Mission issued a joint statement, saying the mayor engaged in “unbiblical behavior.”

Lee County Democratic Party Chairperson Jamie Lowe called Copeland “the backbone of Smiths Station” and condemned “the use of discriminatory and hateful rhetoric to target the personal lives of individuals.” Doug Jones, the former Democratic U.S. Senator from Alabama, described the treatment Copeland received from 1819 News as “sad and disgusting.”

Parents magazine reported in its Aug. 29, 2023, edition that outing of queer or cross-dressing students has a major impact on their mental health and physical safety. Outing is disclosing an LGBTQIA person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent.

“Whether done intentionally or by accident, outing violates a person’s privacy and increases their risk of physical harm, homelessness, substance misuse, and suicide,” the magazine reported.

Cross dressing in drag shows has been swept up in the so-called “anti woke” movement with states around the nation banning such performances where children are present.

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Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer