ADDED ON: 05/29/2022

We have to learn the lessons of the past’: Why calling monkeypox a ‘gay disease’ is wrong and harmful

5/28/22 | Manchester Evening News

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’. 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.”

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