The LGBT community faces ‘painful’ monkeypox – and the stigma associated with it

The spread and spread of monkeypox among gay men has raised widespread fears, growing anger and a number of uncomfortable questions for a society still reeling from the scars of the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

While there is still widespread public confusion about the exact nature and prevalence of the disease, the vast majority of monkeypox patients in the United States identify as LGBT and are male.

For some, the situation raises bleak parallels with the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was branded a “gay plague,” hospitals and funerals turned away patients and victims, and White House officials either cracked anti-gay jokes or simply ignored the new virus.

Read also | WHO chief advises reducing sex partners to avoid monkeypox

At a meeting this week in West Hollywood, a center for the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles, actor Matt Ford received a standing ovation as he spoke candidly about the “painful” symptoms he experienced when he fell ill — an experience he also shared online.

After that, he said France Press agency That he “definitely had his doubts before publicly revealing my experience.”

“I was pretty neutral before tweeting due to the potential for social stigma and cruelty – especially online – but fortunately the response has been mostly positive,” he said.

What prompted Ford to speak out was the urgent need to warn others about illness in the days leading up to West Hollywood’s major LGBTQ Pride celebrations.

While monkeypox is not yet classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and can infect anyone, the group currently most affected are men who have sex with men.

The disease is spread by skin-to-skin contact, and is often transmitted through sexual activity, and this week the World Health Organization urged gay and bisexual men to limit their sexual partners.

Read also | Campaigns target the LGBTQ community against monkeypox in Kerala

“Ultimately, it is not homophobic to say that certain groups have been disproportionately affected by the monkeypox outbreak,” said Grant Roth, who is part of a network that gathers information on the disease in New York.

“And now it’s about the queer community.”

While the idea of ​​monkeypox primarily affecting the LGBTQ community provokes homophobia and stigmatization, it has also fueled anger that the US government is not taking the disease seriously enough.

The lack of vaccines available to meet demand has caused outrage across the country with around 4,900 cases detected – more than any other country.

On Thursday, San Francisco and New York State declared public health emergencies in order to bolster efforts to control the spread of monkeypox.

The US Department of Health has announced plans to allocate an additional 786,000 doses of the vaccine, which will exceed one million doses – but for many, the response came too late.

“Why doesn’t the government act as quickly as it should?” asked Jorge Reyes Salinas of Equality California, a coalition of LGTBQ activists and organizations.

Read also | How does monkeypox spread? What do the experts say?

“We need more resources, we need more attention to this issue. It’s not just a gay issue. It shouldn’t be drawn that way.”

The way the health emergency is being handled, he said, brings back painful memories.

“I think this will always be a risk in our minds because it is, again, from the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”

Roth said much of the “blame” is being placed on MSM, when in fact the government should have “secured vaccines sooner, and made testing more widely available”.

At the West Hollywood meeting, Andrea Kim, director of the Los Angeles County Vaccine Program, said a mobile monkeypox immunization unit would arrive “soon.”

Other speakers explained what measures the community could take to protect itself until then.

Dan Wolfeller, who has worked in HIV and STD prevention for more than three decades, urged people to use “Covid lessons” to tackle the spread by temporarily narrowing social circles and creating bubbles, including sexual activity.

“This event is another traumatic time for many of us,” he said. “We hope that access to a vaccine will increase dramatically in the next six to eight weeks.”

“The more steps we as individuals take starting now to protect ourselves and our partners, the faster we can end this pandemic.”

“I am proud to belong to this city and have this opportunity” to learn more about the disease, said a trans-Hispanic woman after the meeting, who asked not to be identified.

“But how can we not be afraid, if historically we have been discriminated against?” She said.

“I hope it will be different this time.”

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