From ‘Gay Plague’ Jokes in 1980s to HIV Deaths, Can World do Better Now?

It’s eerily similar to the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was labeled a “gay plague,” hospitals and funeral homes turned away patients and victims, and White House officials either made homophobic jokes or ignored the new virus. Monkeypox is here in 2022, and even within a person’s health hazard lies a complex problem.

While Monkeypox has been around in Africa for a while, new cases emerged this year in Europe and the US (some now in India as well). But what has baffled the experts is that most of these infections were seen in gay or bisexual men – an event not previously associated with the disease spreading through ‘skin-to-skin contact’.

Now, with the WHO’s advice to gay and bisexual men “limiting their sexual partners,” and similar messages from the US government, the LGBT community is wary of ostracism, homophobia and a lack of effective public response, as a result of viewing this disease as the ‘problem’ of a group, with the rights of those in that group regularly discussed under various political discussions.

News18 explains the intricacies behind what’s happening:

Why the focus on the LGBT community?

While there is still widespread public confusion about the exact nature and spread of the disease, it is true that the vast majority of monkeypox patients in the United States identify as LGBTQ and are male. While monkeypox has not yet been classified as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and can infect anyone, men who have sex with men are currently the most affected.

The disease, which spreads through skin-to-skin contact, is most commonly transmitted through sexual activity, and the World Health Organization has urged gay and bisexual men to limit their sexual partners this week.

What the community fears

The virus is widely feared, spreading primarily through close physical contact, causing excruciating lesions and other symptoms that can lead to hospitalization. Because those infected with monkey pox have to stay at home for weeks, there is fear of isolation and possible stigma, the New York Times explained in a report. And some people fear the vaccine itself, echoing the skepticism and mistrust that has hampered the response to the coronavirus, the report further explains.

Mordechai Levovitz, clinical director of Jewish Queer Youth at a meeting in Manhattan, said the LGBTQ community could become a “scapegoat” in the event of a larger and more widespread monkeypox outbreak. “You know what’s going to happen. In a few months there will be kids on the cover of every magazine with monkey pox on their faces, and they will come after us,” he said. the New York Times.

But beyond the stigma, the disease has also sparked outrage that the US government is not taking the disease seriously enough, the AFP reported. A shortage of vaccines to meet demand has sparked outrage in a country where 4,900 cases have been diagnosed – more than any other country.

The state of San Francisco and New York on Thursday declared a state of emergency to contain the spread of monkeypox. The United States Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to allocate an additional 786,000 doses of vaccine, bringing the total supply to one million, but for many the response has come too late.

“Why isn’t the government acting as quickly as it should?” Jorge Reyes Salinas of Equality California, a coalition of LGTBQ activists and organizations, told AFP.

“We need more resources, and we need more attention to this problem. It’s not just an LGBTQ concern. It shouldn’t be painted that way.”

Echoes of the past

In the 1980s, many gay Americans were subjected to acts of homophobia that are still fresh in their minds, the report states. New York Times.

During a press conference in 1982, the White House press secretary made AIDS jokes. Here is a transcript of the press conference, as provided by: intelligencer.

If that’s shocking, one should keep in mind that even funerals for the dead were refused by churches. And President Ronald Reagan didn’t make a public speech about the epidemic until 1987, when about 23,000 Americans had died from it, the report said.

The stigma was far from limited in the US. According to a Guardian report, the UK had also marketed HIV/AIDS as a “gay plague”.

‘I would shoot my son if he had AIDS,’ the pastor says!’ was a headline of Sun in 1985; while James Anderton, the chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police Force until 1991, denounced gays, drug addicts and sex workers living with HIV for “fumbling around in a human cesspool of their own making,” the report said.

What is the way forward?

The way forward remains unclear, amid much debate over coverage of the disease. The Guardian columnist Owen Jones argues in his piece that the real problem is stigma. He cites an HIV consultant who says stigma remains a driving factor in why some people don’t test for the disease, and that “it’s the same stigma we need to tackle early on in monkeypox.”

He calls it an indisputable fact that international research had shown that 98% of those infected were gay or bi-men by the end of June. And in light of that, he said, fear was the real problem. For him, “true institutional homophobia isn’t about recognizing monkeypox as a virus that overwhelmingly affects men who have sex with men: it’s a weak response precisely because a still-over-stigmatized minority is most at risk.”

But many LGBT advocates around the world are not convinced. “There is no such thing as a gay disease,” Philadelphia Representative Malcolm Kenyatta told CBS Philly. “Monkeypox affects everyone.”

But as the world begins to see deaths from the disease, one thing remains clear: Governments should assess their public health response to the disease to best address it, while avoiding the stigmatization of the group currently affected by it. to fight.

With input from the New York Times, AFP.

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