‘We have to learn the lessons of the past’: Why calling monkeypox a ‘gay disease’ is wrong and harmful
In just a few weeks, there has been an ‘unprecedented’ number of cases of monkeypox around the world. Cases of the little-known disease are being investigated in Europe, Australia and America, with over 100 cases already reported in the UK.
The virus, which is transmitted to humans from animals, is thought to be similar to smallpox but less severe and less infectious. Symptoms can include fever, headaches and rashes. Little is known about how the disease, which rarely thrives outside of Western and Central Africa, has managed to spread around the world.
A significant proportion of the recently reported Monkeypox cases have been identified has being among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) following outbreaks at two raves held in Spain and Belgium. This has already led to some people linking monkeypox as a ‘gay disease’ – with echoes of the language around the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s which was, at a time, similarly wrongly labelled a ‘gay plague’.
READ MORE: ‘You’re an embarrassment’: Manchester MPs slam Boris Johnson’s apology
But, while a number of reported cases are within the MSM community and through sexual networks, the virus can be passed on to anyone through close contact, such as via bodily fluids. “Men who have sex with men have been, so far, the biggest proportion of those affected,” Jaime García-Iglesias, a research fellow at the University of Manchester, tells the Manchester Evening.
“However, this is not because of their sexuality – it is because they may have had more close contacts. Anybody who has close contact and fluid exchange could get monkeypox. It is a serious condition and, as such, community transmission like this is worrying—especially for those who could be most affected, such as those who are immunosuppressed.
“Monkeypox is also very worrying because it will put sexual health services and public health services under enhanced pressure – when they are already hardly able to cope to begin with. And, further, it will make some people associate ‘gay’ with disease once again.”
Jaime, who is also the author of ‘From HIV to COVID-19: Viral Times’, said he believes this association could reverse the work done since the 80s through harmful stigma. He explains: “There is a real risk that monkeypox will further stigmatize gay communities. So much reporting about it mentions saunas and gay parties. Gayness may become associated with promiscuity and risk-taking, or with recklessness even.
“Then, there is a very slippery slope to arguing that ‘gays’ brought it upon themselves. This is what happened during the early days of AIDS – and still happens now with HIV. HIV did not make people homophobic, people were already profoundly homophobic.
“HIV gave these people a solid, concrete, excuse to act on that homophobia. It was the homophobia that made HIV the AIDS crisis: if it hadn’t been for the homophobia that prevented funding and proper healthcare, much fewer people would have died. We’ve spent decades trying to separate HIV from gayness, Monkeypox risks undoing whatever little advances we’ve made.”
HIV charity George House Trust added it was important to stress that monkeypox doesn’t discriminate. ““Monkeypox is a virus that can impact anyone,” Chief Executive Darren Knight said. “.For us at George House Trust, the important thing with this outbreak is that gay and bisexual men are looking after their health and being checked out. Ultimately, Covid, HIV and the common cold don’t discriminate. Viruses can affect anyone and we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and look out for others during any outbreak.”
Lauren Duffy, the Sexual Health Services Manager at Manchester’s LGBT Foundation, says reporting of monkeypox as a ‘gay disease’ is just one of a number of misconceptions surrounding the virus which could also lead to further fear and hysteria. “Monkeypox is not a virus which only affects men who have sex with men,” she explains. It’s believed to be spreading in sexual networks which is why we’ve seen these cases primarily in MSM in the UK, but anybody can have monkeypox.
“It’s also not an STI – it’s passed on through close contact which can happen during sexual encounters or in non-sexual situations. Because anybody can get it, it’s really important that everyone is aware of the symptoms, and seeks medical advice if they notice a new rash.
“It’s also really important to say that the risk is still very low. Lots of other infections cause rashes, like syphilis and herpes, so it’s likely somebody with a rash doesn’t have monkeypox, but they may still need treatment so seeking medical attention is a good idea.”
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recently expressed concern that coverage of monkeypox could reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes. It reinforced that anyone who has had close physical contact with someone with monkeypox could be at risk.
“Stigma and blame undermine trust and capacity to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” Matthew Kavanagh, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, said. “Experience shows that stigmatizing rhetoric can quickly disable evidence-based response by stoking cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding efforts to identify cases, and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures.”
On Wednesday (May 25), Manchester’s director of public health David Regan told a Health Scrutiny Committee that Manchester Council has been working with voluntary organisations in the LGBT community. Labour councillor Pat Karney said he welcomed the move, and said there was a need to ‘challenge disinformation’ surrounding ‘the targeting of communities’.
“The name itself is scary and excites anxiety and attention,” Coun Karney said of monkeypox. “Many of us have been through this journey before – it was about monkeys and animals in Africa, gay people, HIV and AIDS. We have to learn the lessons from that period in terms of the linkages made on what is basically a health issue.
“Gay people were vilified and targeted as carriers of diseases from Africa in the early days. If anyone saw Russell T Davies’ ‘It’s A Sin’, even large sections of the medical establishment pulled away from treating gay people in a proper and professional manner. Never again. Let us learn.
“This council has to be upfront about challenging any of the scaremongering, any of the targeting, any of the vilification of any of our communities. It’s got to challenge the disinformation – we live in a disinformation age – and never again repeat what went on in the narrative about HIV and AIDS.”
Sign up to the LGBTQ+ Bulletin newsletter by clicking here.
READ MORE: The hepatitis symptom parents are being warned to look for as cases in children continue to rise
Denial of responsibility! planetcirculate is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.