While D.C. health officials continue to battle against the spread of the monkeypox virus, some within the District’s LBGT community said they feel more offended than protected by disparaging narratives which link the rise of the virus to sexual orientation.
CDC data reports the District currently has 494 cases. The D.C. Department of Health’s data indicates that 96% of the reported cases are men with 82% identifying as gay. These case numbers have set the tone of conversation highlighting gay males as the demographic most susceptible to infection.
On Sept. 22, the White House Response Team, along with federal and local health professionals including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, visited the monkeypox vaccine clinic in D.C.’s Ward 8 to share updates, with a brief commentary on the District’s next steps. Some health officials shared sentiments towards the importance of highlighting those populations who remain at higher risk than others to the non-discriminatory disease.
Similar to the AIDS epidemic, where gay males became the face of the then fatal disease, alarming guidelines of monkeypox transmission have pinned gay males to the rapid spread of the virus, particularly when considering the activity, lifestyles and environments deemed hypersexual. But despite the statistics supporting local vaccination campaigns, some gay males still feel disdain in how arguably subversive the narrative comes across, with the concern of gay men being placed on front streets, perhaps perceived as essential outbreak monkeys of the virus.
Antwan Mickens, a D.C. educator and gay man, expressed his concerns.
“I can respect the clear indication of public spaces like the bathhouses and hypersexual activity in terms of the number of partners someone may be dealing with,” he said. “But that is also a high-risk lifestyle that can bring about any illness or sexually transmitted disease for someone of any sexual demographic. My concern is when these warnings are highlighting men of the LGBT community as if there are not publicly claimed heterosexual men who are frequenting those same spaces, or just hypersexual in general, but yet they are seldomly mentioned when discussing this outbreak.”
Becerra supports the conclusions of health experts in terms of how the virus tends to be transmitted.
“We want to be very accurate but straightforward [about] what puts you at risk,” he said. “If you are in a particular population, you might have a higher risk and we want you to know that because there is a vaccine that you can take to help prevent you from becoming infected.”
Ward 5 resident Lamont Brown echoed the frustrations of his close gay male friends, confirming their disgruntlement with the current narratives on the viral outbreak
“I have friends who are in committed relationships, not reckless at all, and do not like the discomfort of people looking at them as if they are automatically at higher risk when they are not even living high-risk sexual lifestyles,” Brown said. “I find it an inaccurate depiction of the lifestyle for many people who I know in the LGBT community.”