The American LGBT+ community fears stigmatization in the face of monkeypox

The spread of monkeypox and its prevalence among gay men is raising fear, anger and thorny issues in the United States for a community still scarred by the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

An overwhelming majority of cases in the United States involve males who identify as LGBT+, and for some the situation is reminiscent of the dark days of the 1980s when HIV was dubbed the “gay plague.”

Hospitals and funeral homes turned away patients and victims, and White House officials chose to either mock the situation with homophobic jokes or simply ignore the new virus.

At a rally this week in West Hollywood, a hotspot for Los Angeles’ LGBT+ community, actor Matt Ford received a standing ovation as he spoke about the “excruciating” pain of his symptoms after contracting smallpox monkeys.

He later told AFP that he “clearly had doubts about sharing his experience,” which he did online.

“I was very hesitant before tweeting because of the potential for social stigma and people’s cruelty – especially online – but thankfully the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

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

The skin-contact communicable disease is most commonly transmitted through sexual activity, and the World Health Organization this week urged gay and bisexual men to limit their sex partners.

For Grant Roth, who is part of a network collecting information about the disease in New York, “it is not homophobic to say that certain groups are disproportionately affected”.

“And right now it’s about the queer community,” he says.

– stigma –

The fact that the virus is primarily affecting the LGBT+ community raises concerns about the emergence of some form of stigma and a resurgence of homophobia. There is also growing anger at the US government, which is accused of not taking the disease seriously enough.

A shortage of vaccines to meet demand has sparked outrage across the country, which has recorded around 4,900 cases so far, more than any other country, with no deaths.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has announced its intention to allocate 786,000 additional vaccine doses, totaling more than a million doses. But for many, the answer comes too late.

“We need more resources and more focus on the issue,” said Jorge Reyes Salinas of Equality California, a coalition of LGBT+ organizations and activists.

“It’s not just an LGBTQ issue, it shouldn’t be portrayed as such,” he adds.

The way the health emergency is being handled brings back painful memories of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, he stresses.

According to Grant Roth, men involved in homosexual relationships have been singled out, when in reality the main blame lies with the government, which has not responded adequately by not stocking up on vaccines and testing sooner.

– blisters –

At the West Hollywood rally, Andrea Kim, director of the Los Angeles County immunization program, said a mobile monkeypox unit was “coming soon.”

Others highlighted steps the community can take to protect themselves in the meantime.

Dan Wohlfeiler, who has worked on HIV and other STD prevention issues for more than three decades, urged everyone to learn the lessons of Covid to combat the spread, including temporarily restricting social interactions, including sexual activity . The goal: create bubbles.

Matt Ford threw him a guide for those who contract the disease, which begins by reminding the reader that there is no shame.

“I’m proud to be part of this city and to have the opportunity” to learn more about the disease, said one trans and Latino woman after the rally, who declined to be named.

“But how can we not be afraid when we have historically been discriminated against?” she insists.

“I hope it will be different this time,” she adds.

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