Former college football player Isimemen Etute was found not guilty on all charges in connection with the killing of Jerry Smith, a gay man who posed as a woman on the dating app Tinder. Etute was found not guilty on second-degree murder charges in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday 31 May 2022.
As reported by The Independent, the court was told that Smith falsely posed on the dating app as 21-year-old emergency room doctor ‘Angie Renee’ in an attempt to meet straight men who are in college. Etute, who used to play American football at Virginia Tech, matched with Smith on the app and went to what he thought was Angie’s flat in April 2021, where the court was told he received oral sex.
In fact, two other Virginia Tech players also admitted to matching with ‘Angie’ but both noted that they left the apartment after feeling uncomfortable. In Etute’s case, the jury was told that a month after his first visit, the 19-year-old returned to the flat to find out if ‘Angie’ had lied to him about their gender.
In court, Etute testified that when he confronted Smith, he saw him reach for a weapon under the bed, causing the football player to kick and punch him. Investigators did find a knife under the mattress at the apartment.
According to The Roanoke Times, state medical examiner Dr Amy Tharp and forensic detective Mike Czernicki gave expert testimony at the trial, detailing Smith’s injuries discovered via autopsy. The 40-year-old man had every bone in his face broken and was missing several teeth. There was bleeding and swelling in his brain and frothy liquid was coming out of his mouth from inhaling his own blood. The impression of a shoe was also discovered on his face.
Smith’s body was found two days after the incident took place. Etute was arrested in June 2021 and charged with second-degree murder after local police connected him to the incident.
Two other teammates who went with the young man to the apartment—but stayed outside—were not charged with any crimes. If convicted, Etute would have faced between five and 40 years behind bars. However, the jury believed his self-defence argument.
Etute also testified that he believed Smith was reaching for a gun, although he didn’t mention this fact when initially questioned by police in 2021. Meanwhile, the defence painted Smith as an “evil man” who was guilty of a “wicked sexual ruse” and insisted that Etute was the “real victim,” adding that Smith’s actions would have amounted to sexual battery under Virginia law.
As initially reported by PinkNews, the former football player told the court, “I felt violated. I was just in shock, in disbelief that someone tricked me and lied to me.”
It should be noted that on 1 July 2021, the state of Virginia passed a law restricting the use of a ‘gay panic’ defence, in which a murder defendant could get a lesser sentence by arguing they panicked when they found out the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Though many expected such a change to play a part in Etute’s case, the judge ruled that the legislation, passed after Smith’s death, could not be used in the trial.
With discriminatory bullying and harassment still prevalent, South Korean LGBTQIA+ citizens and activists are imploring the country’s government to finally pass anti-discrimination laws to protect the queer people most at risk. The lack of protection is reportedly taking a heavy toll on LGBTQIA+ South Koreans but there is hope for change, as a number of pending legislations are awaiting action.
A report released by the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) showcased the discriminatory climate that fans the flames for rampant harassment for LGBTQIA+ people. HRW cited in the report that “even as domestic public opinion warms to LGBT rights and neighbouring governments take steps toward LGBT equality, South Korea’s government has failed to make meaningful progress, citing intense religious and conservative opposition to justify inaction.”
South Korea isn’t the only country that is still promoting backward thinking however, as neighbouring country China recently found itself in hot water for its proposed ban of ‘effeminate’ men. So, what does this conservative opposition create for the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in South Korea? The report details that rampant discrimination is therefore not solely a result of governmental inaction but the effect of deep-rooted policies that foster intolerance.
Focusing particularly on the influence of the country’s education system on its population, HRW concluded that the systemic failings have bred an unsafe environment for its queer community. It was found that South Korean schools have barred conversations of LGBTQIA+ intimacy in their sex education curriculums.
Other failings in the school system showed disparities in mental health services, with counsellors dissuading LGBTQIA+ students from being the way they are and even creating large, difficult obstacles that prevent transgender pupils from attending school in their gender identity. These experiences can present themselves in the form of deep bullying, isolation or even sexual harassment for LGBTQIA+ youth, with “many young LGBT people [struggling] with anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and other mental health concerns.”
“Despite long standing advocacy efforts, the National Assembly of South Korea has yet to approve a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, leaving LGBT people vulnerable to being fired, evicted, or mistreated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report writes. Current President Moon Jae-in, viewed as a progressive in South Korean politics (despite being known for his opposition to same-sex marriage), has condemned LGTQIA+ discrimination.
However, with elections due in March 2022, Moon’s presidency term is about to come to a close as Yoon Seok-youl—a conservative former prosecutor general—is leading in the polls. Alongside those rampant activism efforts, comes the angry cry of the conservatives of the country who reportedly have vowed, if elected, to even dismantle the ministry of gender equality.
Despite this, LGBTQIA+ South Koreans appear resilient as ever as Amnesty International sent an open letter to the National Assembly imploring the enforcement of the Anti-Discrimination Act immediately. Citing the National Assembly’s failure over 14 years to pass such legislation, this being the tenth submission of the bill since 2007, the organisation argues that “at a minimum, it should ensure that everyone has the right to be treated equally regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, language, class, religion, belief, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics, age, health, disability, marital or other family status, or other status.”
The non-profit further stated in its letter that the passing of such laws could allow South Korea to be at the forefront of human rights progression in Asia. East Asian campaigner at Amnesty International, Suki Chung, said that “the introduction of this anti-discrimination bill, combined with existing draft laws on the matter, represents a historic opportunity for South Korea to finally broadcast to the world that violations of the right to equality will no longer be tolerated anywhere in society.”
For now, all we can do is wait and see whether the National Assembly takes that opportunity.