A recent report which found that 98 per cent of confirmed Monkeypox cases were in LGBTQIA+ men has stoked a debate on social media platforms over how the virus has been portrayed as a “gay disease”.
Parallels have been drawn by Twitter and TikTok users with the 1980s AIDS epidemic, and the way in which the gay community was stigmatised.
Some claim that public health and media messaging about the Monkeypox outbreak – which was declared a global health emergency on Saturday by the WHO – is homophobic.
Epidemiologist and popular TikToker TJ Pax Hardy also subscribes to this belief, saying that the problem lies with Monkeypox being wrongly described as a sexually transmitted disease.
“We saw this in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis,” said Hardy.
“We’ve done this before when we’ve stigmatised a disease, it’s estimated that half of all individuals who died from AIDS could’ve been saved in the United States, had the disease not been so stigmatised early on as a ‘gay disease’.”
@snackpax.epi#duet with @olliesinha News media please consider changing the narritive lives literally depend on it. #epidemiologistpax♬ original sound – Ollie Sinha
While Monkeypox can be transmitted as a result of sexual intercourse, it can also be passed on after close physical contact with infected individuals or contaminated materials like bedding.
However, some prominent gay figures have waded into the debate, denying that it is discriminatory to target messaging at the LGBTQIA+ community, due to the increased risk for men who have sex with men.
British journalist Owen Jones posted a video to Twitter, in which he slammed online discourse as “dangerous” and putting the health of gay men “at risk”.
“The messaging has to be non-stigmatised,” said Jones. “The problem with HIV wasn’t that the messaging was targeted… the problem was stigmatised messaging, so what we need to do is not cast judgement on people’s sexual behaviour.”
Vaccines are currently being offered to high-risk individuals in some countries, including in the United States, the United Kingdom and France to combat the virus.
In the city of New York, individuals must meet specific age and sexual orientation criteria in order to be eligible, a strategy which some Twitter users have criticised as ‘unfair’, with one such tweet receiving over 135,000 likes.
TJ Pax Hardy suggested that this messaging from New York is “very stigmatising” and that the city should “know better” given their history with high numbers of AIDS fatalities four decades ago.
He claims that groups and individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community should be leading the conversation about Monkeypox and the elevated risks for members of the group.
He added: “We don’t need Dr Tedros from the WHO or Rochelle Walensky from the Centres for Disease Control leading those discussions because neither one of them identify as LGBTQIA.”
“People like me who identify on that sexuality spectrum should be leading those discussions because we know how to have [them] because of what we have been through with other diseases in the past,” he continued.
In Colorado, infectious diseases experts have worked closely with officials on a new public health document, which is aimed at destigmatising information about Monkeypox by removing all language related to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Publically funded health campaigns in the West about AIDS in the 1980s and 90s have been criticised for homophobia and systematically failing to convey information about the virus in a helpful and constructive manner.