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Opinion | Smiths Station mayor’s suicide should serve as a lesson for all of us

We have fostered an environment in which a man who has apparently committed no crimes nor harmed anyone is shamed into ending his life. 

Bubba Copeland should be alive today. 

That he’s not should be a sign to everyone, and especially to Alabama lawmakers and leaders, of just how fragile life can be. It should be the clearest example yet of just how vulnerable some people who live among us truly are. 

It should cause all of us to pause, to bite back the crude comments, to think twice about the public condemnations, to find kinder, better ways to treat each other – even those whose behavior we find “strange” or “weird.” 

You’re probably aware by now of Copeland and his tragic end. He was the mayor of Smiths Station – a tiny town near Auburn – who was outted as a crossdresser last week by the conservative website 1819 News. 

But saying 1819 “outted” him doesn’t really do justice to what happened to Copeland. Because in addition to the story about his Reddit posts, in which he took on a female persona, there were bunches of other stories, including stories of condemnation. There was one featuring radio talkshow personalities Rick and Bubba explaining why Copeland should feel shame. Other conservative commentators piled on as well, defending 1819 for doxing Copeland and exposing his online life. 

All of that is in addition to the regular folks around Smiths Station, and in the Copeland family’s circle, who offered their thoughts and criticisms. 

Under the weight of it, Copeland took a gun and ended his life. 

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He was 49. He had a wife who was apparently aware of, and participated with, his online crossdressing. He leaves behind three kids, and judging by social media posts, they loved their father deeply. 

There seems to be some confusion over the tragic, horrific last few days of Copeland’s life. 

It’s possible that some people are being purposefully obtuse to avoid admitting the obvious, but there is an argument floating around out there that Copeland had no right to keep his secret, online crossdressing life a private matter between him and his wife. That because Copeland was an elected official, exposing his lifestyle, as 1819 did, was proper journalism. That his congregation had a right to know. 

There is a word for this: Bullsh*t. 

That reasoning only makes sense if you inject your personal religious beliefs. Without them – without the self-righteousness to determine what is or isn’t sinful – what are you actually left with in this ordeal? 

It’s this: Bubba Copeland liked to dress up like a woman and write weird fiction. 

Who are you to judge him for that? I mean, if the man was spending city tax dollars on new outfits or using city resources to facilitate his private life, OK. That’s a real problem. That’s a problem that should be exposed. 

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But we don’t know of any such problems. And the rumors that keep popping up of “other stuff” that’s about to come out … well, you should have led with that if it’s out there, instead of heaping buckets of condemnation on a man for a victimless alternate lifestyle that you happen to find icky. 

But, boy, we’re good at that around here, aren’t we? 

From trying to remove LGBTQ+ books from libraries to essentially banning transgender kids from existence to forcing children to have children, the state of Alabama, under conservative rule, has cornered the market on religious governance. 

Just as the Founders absolutely did not intend. 

I hate to break this to you, but in this country where religious freedom has kept us from constant civil war, the fact that your Christian beliefs find crossdressing abhorrent or a book about gay teens unacceptable is utterly irrelevant. Or, at least, it should be. 

Yet, we continue to push these distorted Christian beliefs as actual policy and law. And in the process, we have fostered an environment in which a man who has apparently committed no crimes or harmed anyone is shamed into ending his own life. 

It’s the same end we’re bringing to transgender teens and other at-risk kids who we’ve ostracized and marginalized, who we’ve removed from sports teams and banned from receiving approved medical care and who we’ve told that books that simply portray their lives accurately are too perverted for libraries.  

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There is no telling how many Bubba Copelands there are out there – kids and adults who have been crushed by the hateful, ill-informed, religious-based environment fostered by this sort of ignorance and intolerance. People who have been used as pawns by politicians to spread ignorance and fear. 

Until now, it was easy to separate the policies and actions from the environment they created, from the intolerance and hate they generated throughout communities around this state. 

Maybe Bubba Copeland’s death will change that.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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