Ok. Let’s be frank. Our community did not need this right now. Our collective rage, confusion, frustration, and fear as we are handed yet another disease to battle is valid. Can we catch a break?! Some of the early mistakes in Monkeypox communication, reporting, vaccine production, and distribution have felt all too reminiscent of early crimes against our community in the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We all have so many questions and concerns. How do we address this public health issue with compassion and care in a sea of diverse opinions on what this is and how we even talk about it? We don’t live in a binary world, so I don’t know that there is one answer. I’m also not claiming to know all the answers. I too have questions.
Something I know to be clear is ahead of official public health information being distributed, our community’s global network of LGBTQ advocates, activists, and sex workers used online tools and their social media presence to educate one another allowing for information to travel faster and to the people who needed the information the most than ever before.
I also know that our allies and LGBTQ leadership in elected and appointed positions are fighting for us right now to get us on the right path to stopping the spread of the virus. In California Sen. Scott Wiener has called for a Monkeypox State of Emergency which would allow greater flexibility around testing, services, and vaccination.
Still, some of the outgoing communications have been misleading and problematic. A post on the San Diego County news site the week of San Diego Pride mistakenly stated that people who participate in “Pride festivities” were at risk. Many of us are rightfully enraged at the unneeded confusion, stigma, shame, and fear the media fallout caused. Transparently, ticket sales to the Pride Festival dropped 50% that day after a 20% increase trend and didn’t fully recover to even be flat with 2019. It caused so much confusion volunteers backed out of shifts, attendees didn’t come, and even cisgender heterosexual women were calling for vaccine appointments.
The truth is, Monkeypox is not purely an STI. How we message to the general public matters. The truth also is, 98% of the cases in a recent comprehensive study were documented in men who have sex with men, and that 95% of those transmissions documented occurred during sexual relations. Of these cases, the median number of sex partners in the last three months was five. It was not simply “Pride Festivities” where this virus spread. The data are showing that much of the spread occurred during raves, circuit parties, sex parties, and bath houses; and yes many of these happened during Pride weekends. These are all part of queer community and culture. Inside our community, we understand our own diversity. We know the difference between a Pride Parade and a circuit party that happens during Pride, and we celebrate both.
Sexual liberation is at the core of our movement and we can fight this public health issue in a way that is sex positive. Shame, fear, and stigma did not help us in the battle against HIV and they will not help us now. Testing, treatment, education, and most importantly vaccinations will.
At a moment in our movement where over one in eight LGBTQ people live in states where they can be denied medical treatment and legislators around the country are looking to recriminalize LGBTQ intimacy, the ways we meet each other with compassion, care, education, and the right tools to battle this new virus are more important than ever.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I know our community understands how to tend to one another, educate one another, and take public health matters seriously. That is the legacy of generations of LGBTQ activists, advocates, and allies who carried us through decades of systemic oppression. I am deeply grateful for the current compassionate and intentional collaboration efforts being done to support and center those most impacted by the Monkeypox virus. Our community is clearly ready to protect themselves and take the vaccine. It is imperative that we work together quickly, thoughtfully, and decisively if we hope to meet the needs of the moment and stop the virus in its tracks so that rather than living in fear, we can pursue Justice with Joy.
Fernando Z. López Pronouns: they/them/theirs Executive Director San Diego Pride
San Diego Pride raises funds primarily through festival ticket and beverage sales, and through sponsorships, and exhibitor fees. These funds support San Diego Pride’s community philanthropy which has distributed more than $2.5 million in advancement of its mission to foster pride, equality, and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities locally, nationally, and globally.