As monkeypox begins to dominate the headlines, I remember a quote from the novelist Chris Crutcherin his 2003 autobiography, King of the Sweet Frontier:
“Viruses have no morality, no sense of right and wrong, deserving or undeserving… (this is not the swift sword with which the Lord punishes evil practitioners of male homosexuality and intravenous drug use. It’s just an opportunistic virus doing what it has to do to stay alive.
I was thinking about this when, as a member of the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board, we spoke this week with Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye. First and foremost, our questions focused on the imminent possibility of mask mandates in southern California counties, but also from the virality of monkeypox, which is — currently — primarily associated with the gay community.
In fact, America is World No. 2 for cases right now, with 3,590 known cases of monkeypox, just behind Spain’s 3,738 cases. Figures published on July 29 by the California Department of Public Health show that homosexuals make up 91.7% of all patients who test positive for monkeypox and 5.6% of patients are bisexual. Homosexuals account for 98% of cases.
Kasirye confirmed that the majority of those infected with the virus in Sacramento County are men who have sex with men, bisexual men and transgender communities, but health officials already know it’s possible for anyone to catch it. The virus causes debilitating lesions, headaches and body pain.
Thanks to a limited federal supply of vaccines — Sacramento County has received a total of about 2,000 since the virus was first identified here, she said — health officials are primarily focused on mitigating spread within the LGBTQ+ community.
“We are not withholding any vaccine, no matter what allowance we get. We schedule clinics and are able to offer them to people who match our criteria,” Kasirye said. “I think as more vaccines become available we will definitely speak with the state to consider being able to expand this. But for now, the vaccine is still limited.
That limited response has drawn criticism from an audience fresh out of a years-long pandemic — where health care fatigue has already set in over masks and mandates.
Following the White House’s devastating silence, the cities of San Francisco and New York declared their own public health emergencies to divert funds to care and prevention of further spread. San Francisco health worker Dr Susan Philip said 30% of all California cases were in San Francisco. WHO declared monkey pox a global health emergency as well.
Many members of the LGBTQ+ community rely on social media for information with no official outlet to turn to, and are rightly angry at their leaders for once again proving that there are deep inequalities. in American health care for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
I may only be 32, but as a bisexual woman, I am acutely aware of the history of the queer community, and that history is starting to feel eerily familiar.
It sounds like the same lackluster federal response to AIDS just three decades ago when this virus first emerged in those same LGBTQ+ communities. Monkeypox may not be fatal, but it is debilitating and painful and causes visible lesions, which can be used to spread shame and hatred on those who suffer from it.
It’s just another way our federal government has let down the LGBTQ+ community in times of need. History is clearly repeating itself; because more than 30 years after AIDS revealed the silent division of American sympathies, monkeypox proves, once again, that we are still second-class citizens.
But viruses are amoral. They have no sense of retribution – that is, of human purpose, to make us feel superior to one another. This virus is not the mark of Cain. I see your hatred and I lift up the queer community, long fortified by adversity and exclusion.
And I look forward to the day when the straight community finally realizes that monkeypox isn’t “just a gay disease” – because maybe then our government will do something about it.