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Los Angeles (AFP) – The spread of monkeypox and its prevalence among gay men raises fear, anger and sensitive questions in the United States for a community still scarred by the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
An overwhelming majority of cases in the United States involve men who identify as LGBT+, and for some the situation is reminiscent of the dark times of the 1980s, when HIV was labeled as “a gay plague”.
Hospitals and funeral directors were turning away patients and victims, and White House officials were choosing to either deride the situation with homophobic jokes or simply ignore the new virus.
At a rally this week in West Hollywood, a hotspot for Los Angeles’ LGBT+ community, actor Matt Ford received a standing ovation when he spoke of the “unbearable” pain of his symptoms after contracting smallpox. monkey.
He later told AFP that he “clearly had doubts about telling his experience”, which he also did online.
“I was really hesitant before tweeting due to the potential social stigma and cruelty of people – especially on the internet – but luckily the feedback has been mostly positive,” he said.
While monkeypox has so far not been classified as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and can infect anyone, men who have sex with men are currently the most affected group.
Transmissible through skin contact, the disease is most often transmitted through sexual activity and the World Health Organization this week urged gay and bisexual men to limit their sexual partners.
For Grant Roth, who is part of a network for collecting information on the disease in New York, “it is not homophobic to say that certain groups are disproportionately affected”.
“And currently it’s about the queer community,” he says.
The fact that the virus mainly affects the LGBT+ community raises fears of the emergence of a form of stigma and a resurgence of homophobia. Anger is also growing towards the US government, accused of not taking the disease seriously enough.
A lack of vaccines to meet demand has sparked outrage across the country where some 4,900 cases have been recorded, more than any other country, with no deaths so far.
The US Department of Health has announced its intention to allocate 786,000 additional doses of vaccine, for a total of more than one million doses. But for many, the answer comes too late.
“We need more resources, and more focus on the problem,” said Jorge Reyes Salinas of Equality California, a coalition of LGBT+ organizations and activists.
“It’s not just an LGBTQ concern, it shouldn’t be portrayed that way,” he adds.
The way in which the health emergency is handled brings back painful memories, he underlines, dating from the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
According to Grant Roth, men who have homosexual relations have been singled out, when in reality, he says, the fault lies mainly with the government which has not reacted adequately, by not supplying itself with vaccines and testing sooner.
At the West Hollywood rally, Andrea Kim, director of the Los Angeles County immunization program, said a mobile monkeypox unit was “coming soon.”
Others highlighted steps the community can take to protect themselves in the meantime.
Dan Wohlfeiler, who has worked on HIV and other STD prevention issues for more than three decades, urged everyone to use the lessons learned from Covid to tackle the spread, including temporarily restricting social interactions, including sexual activity. The goal: to create bubbles.
Matt Ford threw him a guide for those who contract the disease, which begins by reminding the reader that there is no shame in it.
“I am proud to belong to this city and to have the opportunity” to learn more about the disease, said after the rally a trans and Latino woman who did not wish to be named.
“But how can we not be afraid, when historically, we have suffered discrimination?”, She underlines.
“I hope this time it will be different,” she adds.
© 2022 AFP