Opinion | Monkeypox outbreak intensifies anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments

By Aparna Lakkaraju, Opinions Editor

The World Health Organization declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, the organization’s most urgent alarm, on July 23. 

Since the beginning of the outbreak in May, the United States has reported almost 5,000 cases of monkeypox as of July 29, and epidemiologists argue that this number could be a gross underestimate due to slow and ineffective testing methods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox spreads among individuals through close, personal contact with an infected individual or through surfaces that have been in contact with an infected individual. This means it also spreads through intimate and sexual contact, but it is important to note that monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted illness.

The WHO has stated that men who have sex with men are currently at the highest risk of infection, as 98% of cases are among men who have sex with men. However, the organization emphasized that anyone exposed can contract the virus and urged healthcare professionals to take caution and prevent stigmatizing high-risk individuals.

Ever the masters of misinformation, America’s GOP is using the monkeypox outbreak as an opportunity to fuel their longstanding anti-LGBTQ+ agenda

And who could embody misinformation better than Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently tweeted, “If Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” Shortly after, Greene vocalized a jaw-dropping claim that monkeypox is spreading through gay sex orgies.

By falsely claiming that monkeypox — mainly spreading amongst LGBTQ+ communities — is an STD, Greene implies an outrageous connection between the spread of monkeypox and child sexual abuse — which further spreads the dangerous “groomer” accusations against gay and trans men spread by conservative politicians and media outlets.

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s extremist values do not reflect all GOP attitudes, but homophobic sentiments and comments regarding the spread of monkeypox are more than widespread amongst many conservative circles.

These accusations have disastrous, tangible consequences — a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws have already been introduced in 2022, and midterm elections are swiftly approaching. Voters persuaded by these sentiments will soon have the opportunity to vote for new representatives that aim to pass more restrictions on the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.

Blaming one specific population for a virus outbreak is reminiscent of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, where anti-Asian rhetoric was fueled by conservative propaganda — Donald Trump himself called it the “Chinese virus” on numerous occasions. This spread of misinformation led to an unfortunate increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, which still impacts Asian Americans today. 

Parallels can also be drawn to the early stages of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s — AIDS, once called the “gay plague” in the news, was not publicly recognized by the Reagan administration until 12,000 Americans died.

Let’s learn from our many past mistakes. Monkeypox is not exclusively affecting men who have sex with men, and labeling it as such stigmatizes LGBTQ+ individuals, prevents infected individuals from seeking treatment and puts everyone in harm’s way. Monkeypox can affect anyone, and refusing to take it seriously could put you and your loved ones at risk.

 

Aparna is a sophomore in LAS.

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