“Gay Panic” Reverberations Continue After Death of Gay “Catfisher”

Source: Roanoke Times

Reactions to the killing of Jerry Paul Smith, a 40-year-old restaurant project manager, grew louder after a bond hearing for Isimemen David Etute, 18, of Blacksburg. Etute, a freshman on Virginia Tech’s football team until his arrest, faces a second-degree murder charge.

At the hearing, Judge Randal Duncan heard a statement that Etute told police he went to Smith’s downtown apartment to engage in sexual activity. He thought he was meeting a woman named “Angie” with whom he’d connected on Tinder, and whom he’d met for oral sex on April 10.

Discovering that Angie was a man provoked Etute to start punching, then “stomping” Smith, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan said. Smith was left “bubbling and gurgling” on the floor of his home, according to what Etute told police. All of the bones in Smith’s face were broken, his teeth were knocked out, and he had cranial fractures.

After the hearing, defense attorney Jimmy Turk said, “Nobody deserves to die, but I don’t mind saying, don’t pretend you are something that you are not. Don’t target or lure anyone under that perception. That’s just wrong.”

Samantha Rosenthal, associate professor of history at Roanoke College and co-founder of the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, wrote in an email: “Regardless of the victim’s gender identity, the comments by Etute’s attorney demonstrate that the defense intends to use transness as an issue in this case.

“There is unfortunately a long history of framing transgender people as inherently deceptive or untruthful about their identities. But the reality is that trans people often conceal parts of themselves expressly to avoid the violence, harassment, and discrimination that is so often directed against us. As this case unfolds, I hope that people will realize that transgender men, women, and non-binary people are on Tinder and have a right to be there.

“Presenting oneself as any gender online is not the same thing as catfishing. Trans people do not owe anyone disclosure about their upbringing, their anatomy, or their past.”

Earlier this year, the Virginia House and Senate approved a bill that bans what is sometimes called the “gay panic” or “LGBTQ panic” defense. The Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign says that with the panic defense, a criminal defendant can argue in court that their discovery of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity caused the defendant’s violent reaction, potentially leading to a reduced charge or sentence.

Etute was released to the custody of his parents after posting a $75,000 bond. He is under house arrest, with his next court appearance scheduled for July 23.

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