The LGBTQ+ community in New York is doing nothing to stop the ongoing and continuing efforts by the Government to portray the Monkey Pox outbreak as largely isolated amongst gay men. This puts everyone at-risk. Nigeria Centre for Disease Control/Fair Use

As Monkey Pox gets branded as an outbreak amongst gay men, echos of a past New York City mayor, who was reluctant to confront sexuality

A convergence of issues are downplaying the Monkey Pox outbreak in New York, and there are echos of the issues during early years of the HIV outbreak.


Updated 23 July 2022 16:43 Statistics released on Wednesday by the administration of Gov. Kathleen Hochul (D-New York) showed that 711 cases of Monkey Pox have been identified in New York City out of the 756 confirmed cases in New York State. Although the disease is still largely described as primarily affecting men, who have sex with other men, there are growing concerns that the Government’s response to the Monkey Pox outbreak is again following patterns of race and class privilege.

Due to the appearance of an uncontrolled spread of Monkey Pox, Federal health officials are providing New York City, the epicentre of the latest viral outbreak, an additional 25,693 doses of the vaccine, named JYNNEOS, after having previously received 14,500 doses and a reported, combined 7,000 doses before that. The registration process to receive the vaccine has involved technical problems and triggered excess demand, so much so that Mayor Eric Adams (D-New York City) was compelled to suggest that the two-dose vaccines would be split, allowing City officials to administer single doses to provide inoculations to as many people as possible, until more supply is provided by the Federal Government.

Monkey Pox can spread, or cannot be excluded from spreading, through skin-on-skin contact, the touching of fabrics or textiles that were exposed to skin lesions, through aerosols when in close proximity, and ingestion of food that has been touched by individuals with unhealed sores. This makes the disease open to spread to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, like in Africa, where it can turn deadly. Nevertheless, in New York and in other Western jurisdictions, officials are initially targeting the vaccine to gay men with active sex lives.

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Even as some LGBTQ+ public officials complain about the slow Government response to this latest, viral outbreak amongst gay men, the stereotype has kept getting affirmed that Monkey Pox was largely affecting homosexual men. Dr. Jay Varma, the chief public health minister to former Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York), took to social media, urging men, who were having sex with other men, to screen pictures of their sex partners’ genitalia if sex partners were meeting through mobile sex apps.

The sudden expectation within the LGBTQ+ community that the Government should take the Monkey Pox outbreak seriously comes as the same Government continues to downplay the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, in respect of COVID-19, the Government has lifted the mask mandate, reduced the time for isolation, and moved the goal posts on reporting test positivity. Throughout the pandemic, some of the best science about the Coronavirus has come from foreign scientists, whose independence has not been as subsumed by politics as in the U.S. Recently, Public Health Ontario noted that, “The evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can cause immune dysregulation is increasing,” confirming growing suspicion amongst supporters for a return to greater COVID-19 mitigations that repeated Coronavirus exposure could lead to a form of acquired immune deficiency. That raises a question that seemingly can’t get answered, yet : Are the people experiencing the Monkey Pox outbreak right now experiencing their infections as a result of having engaged in homosexual sex, or is it because their immune systems may have become compromised due to repeated COVID-19 infections ?

Officials with the City and State Departments of Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to answer questions submitted in advance for this report.

When it was revealed in 2021 that a large cluster of COVID-19 infections took place on Cape Cod, the cluster was traced to Bear Week, a gay circuit party. The outbreak took place, in part, because, at that time then, the Government had begun to promote a vaccine-only response to the Coronavirus, and gay men had already begun to foresake prophylactics (masks), based, in part, on a rejection of the past compulsory use of prophylactics (condoms) during the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Gay men have particularly rejected any regulation of sex, especially since sexual orientation has been subject to puritanism and policing. However, there have been times when public health emergencies have threatened to subvert the sexual autonomy of gay men.

In 2005, the now late activist-playwright Larry Kramer was interviewed by PBS about his experience with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He recalled supporting the closure of gay sex clubs, also known as bathhouses, even though that was an unpopular and unlawful position to take, he said. He spent many years accusing the Government, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, of dragging their feet on responding to HIV/AIDS. Due to the large numbers of gay men, who died, Mr. Kramer recalled referring to Dr. Fauci as a murderer, according to the interview.

Mobile sex apps have largely replaced gay bathhouses, but the stereotyping remains.

The persistent characterisation that Monkey Pox is being primarily spread between men, who have sex with men, serves the agenda that gay men want to be able to receive the Monkey Pox vaccines as a way to avoid the use of prophylactics (condoms), according to information obtained by Progress New York. This comes to the detriment of others, who are not prioritised for vaccination, for example babies and children and pets, who can also become infected. Officials with ACT UP NY, Queer DSA, and Queer Nation NY also declined to answer questions submitted in advance for this report. The way some communities are given preferential treatment flies in the face of the urgency felt by others, who are living with Long Covid and other comorbidities, for whom exposure to the Monkey Pox could worsen their over-all health.

In the 1980’s, then Mayor Edward Koch (D-New York City) was described as reluctant to address the spread of HIV/AIDS to avoid any association with gay men. Although what later became known as AIDS was first reported in 1981, Government avoidance and inaction finally gave way after gay men began organising to demand a Government public health response. In part, the Koch administration began to take steps in 1985 to possibly close gay bathhouses, according to press reports. A public health campaign to promote safe sex later permitted some bathhouses to remain open. Since then, the LGBTQ+ community have sought sex-positive alternatives to closing sex establishments, yet they have also rejected the stigma that sexually-transmitted infections were being ascribed to them.

At that time then, it was postulated that New York politicians didn’t know what to do, as was noted in an honors thesis written by Samantha Walker. Then, as now, there was a fear that Government intervention in the private acts of sexual minorities could lead to regulation in private settings, such as in peoples’ homes. But we are on that precipice now, with the recent Conservative-bent to the U.S. Supreme Court and the possibility that the Nation’s top Court might overturn marriage equality and the right to privacy (use of contraception).

What is more, since the LGBTQ+ community have not pushed back against the constant portrayal of the Monkey Pox outbreak as largely occurring amongst gay men, that stigma may colour the outbreak as a sexually-transmitted infection. Already, some clinicians are advocating abstinence or a return to the use of condoms. In an online panel presentation sponsored by the Callen-Lorde health centre, Dr. Marcus Sanding said that, “Because Monkey Pox is frequently-transmitted through close contact with infected skin, the best way to reduce transmission is really to not be in physical contact with other people, who are actively infected,” adding that, “So, I would advise delaying sexual activity with new partners.” One HIV/AIDS counselor informed Progress New York that condoms are still recommended to individuals taking PrEP/PEP HIV/AIDS medications, but that the decisions on their use are ultimately made in private by sexual partners.

But these messages, and any concern for the possibility of acquired immune deficiency resulting from repeated Coronavirus infections, are not receiving the same Government boost that masking and social distancing received at the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic. If the bathhouses and night clubs with sex rooms are no longer as prevalent in an age of hook-up apps, the LGBTQ+ community may be putting themselves at risk of unscrupulous Government officials, who may seek to suspend apps as an inferior alternative, like some espoused the closure of bathhouses.

The experience that gay men have had with COVID-19 have made them passive. They saw that they could survive the Coronavirus infection without serious consequences. One veteran member of ACT UP NY was overheard describing COVID-19 as nothing more than a common cold. In the face of possible Coronavirus exposure, HIV/AIDS counselors have generally recommended that gay men continue taking PrEP/PEP, as indicated. Like the Government itself, there’s been a deëscalation of worry. On the other hand, others are left wondering why they’ve been excluded from priority opportunities for vaccination. And, in between, the Mayor’s Office didn’t answer questions submitted in advance for this report. Are we in another era, when the New York City mayor ignores a new pandemic being branded, fairly or unfairly, as largely affecting the LGBTQ+ community ?