More than 100 people line up in Los Angeles to be vaccinated against monkeypox.

Right-wing media includes AIDS-era homophobic monkeypox in monkeypox coverage

TonThe conservative movement against LGBTQ+ rights has found a new anchor for its hatred: monkeypox. On TV, right-wing commentators openly mock monkeypox victims — the vast majority of whom have sex with men — and accuse them of contracting the disease. On social media, right-wing users have exchanged memes about how “cure” monkeypox is heterosexual, while expressing doubts about the efficacy of the monkeypox vaccine.

This aggressive stigma of monkeypox — reminiscent of the homophobic response to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s — poses a serious challenge to public health advocates and community leaders seeking to compete with the most vulnerable people during the pandemic. At-risk gay and bisexual men have honest conversations about the disease. the current outbreak. Should public information emphasize the fact that monkeypox primarily affects MSM? Should public health agencies urge gay men to change their sexuality?

Author and veteran AIDS campaigner Mark S King, a 61-year-old gay man, said the simultaneous threats of homophobia and monkeypox require difficult choices about which to address first.

More than 100 people line up in Los Angeles to be vaccinated against monkeypox. Photo: Étienne Laurent/EPA

“I’m going to kill the crocodile closest to the boat. And right now, that means giving MSM information on how to avoid that.”

Early in the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautioned in its communications about monkeypox, which can cause painful lesions, fever, and other symptoms. On May 18, the agency said “cases include individuals who self-identify as men who have sex with men,” while stressing that “anyone, regardless of sexual orientation,” can spread the disease. But an international study published July 21 found that 98% of recent monkeypox cases outside Africa were detected in gay or bisexual men, with 95% of cases suspected to be transmitted through sexual activity of.

That’s why King aligns with a growing number of U.S. public health officials and advocates arguing that the message around monkeypox needs to be very honest in communicating the risks to those most affected — even if homophobes will pounce on it .

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named gay man Dr. Demetre Dasklakis, a prominent AIDS activist, as its deputy coordinator for its national monkeypox response. Days later, the agency released guidelines for monkeypox prevention through safe sex, including illustrations of two men in bed. The article advises people to limit the number of sexual partners, avoid anonymous hookups, and “wash hands, use fetishes, sex toys” after sex. It also recommends social distancing or video masturbation as a substitute for sex.

Sexually positive public health messages like this have drawn contempt from conservative commentators.

“Chastity. Celibacy. Modesty. Discipline. Not disgusting. Keep your legs closed. All, all viable options,” Republican commentator Kathy Barnett tweeted in response to the CDC’s guidance.

Mark S. King.
Mark S. King. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

“Gay men who are still waiting to have random sex with strangers during the monkeypox outbreak are being reprimanded and scolded by public health authorities, just as the rest of us have done during Covid by going to grocery stores and restaurants,” Daily Caller The author’s Matt tweeted Walsh.

In late July, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson tweeted a poll announcing that the disease should be renamed “schlong Covid” and labelled the CDC.

But Kim said these right-wing attacks were just a distraction. “We have to ignore this if we’re going to deliver an effective public message to the communities we care about.”

King contracted HIV in 1985 and remembers being frustrated by the lack of official recognition of the losses suffered by gay men. “How many years will there be detailed, clear language on how the virus spreads until our president says how many people are dying from AIDS?” he said. “Fast forward to 2022 and we’ll at least have all the important, clear information about monkeypox so that gay men can protect themselves. I think that’s progress.”

But not everyone in the queer community agrees on how to talk about the new outbreak. In guidelines issued to the media, prominent human rights group Glaad specifically warned against treating monkeypox as a disease that primarily affects men who have sex with men.

DaShawn Usher, Glaad’s director of communities of color and media, said viewing monkeypox as a disease in the gay community discourages others from educating about prevention.

“If history shows us anything, it will tell us that infectious diseases like this don’t stay in a community,” he said. “Stigma breeds fear, which then turns into resistance to public health and stopping the spread of disease.”

Man in mask and face shield holding documents in front of computer monitor
Microbiologists work on Covid-19 and monkeypox tests in Nashville. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Usher said the belief that monkeypox only affects certain people may also prevent employers from providing accommodation for monkeypox, or workers from disclosing that they have monkeypox for fear of being labelled “queer” or exposed. .

There is also division within the queer community over whether and how to discuss changing sexuality during the outbreak. Some health authorities are advising affected communities to reduce their sexual activity while the U.S. grapples with vaccine delays, which sounds disturbingly similar to conservative attacks on gay culture.

Just telling people not to have sex sends the wrong message, Usher said. “If you kiss someone who has monkeypox, or if you hug someone who is not clothed, you can still get monkeypox. I just encourage people to understand all the ways it can spread.”

King said he faced backlash within the community for telling others to consider calling back their contacts. “I am attacked by people who think I contribute to the stigma of homosexuality. My response to this is: You are welcome back in a few weeks to any type of sex that suits you. Vaccines are in the truck. Wait a minute. “

The campaigner believes the best way to provide candid public health advice about sexuality is to remove any moral judgment. “Through HIV infection over the past 40 years, we’ve learned that moral judgment only helps HIV,” he said. “The moral judgment that shames the people most at risk leads people to go underground, not acknowledging what their actions are and not wanting to talk about the risks.”

That’s not to say there’s no room to discuss why gay men make the choices they make, King said. “But right now it’s a completely worthless conversation in terms of stopping the spread of monkeypox.”

King said it would be wrong to think that avoiding the reality of monkeypox would reduce homophobic attacks — which have been increasing over the years. Federal hate crime statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of reported anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes over the past decade. During this period, U.S. state legislatures passed an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ+ measures, with 2021 being viewed by the human rights movement as the “worst year ever.” Many American schools have banned LGBTQ+ books, and attacks on queer spaces are on the rise. Right-wing activists have fueled fears in recent months by promoting conspiracy myths that queer-friendly people are “raising” children for sexual abuse.

“Those who go after gays, they’re full of hatred for anything that would cause them to pick up a beer bottle,” King said. “They may use new language when they bash us, but they’ll still bash us in the head.”

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