Iraqi gay community threatened by monkeypox stigma stoked by rulers

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A preliminary link between the latest monkeypox outbreak and gay and bisexual men could have a serious impact on the LGBTQ+ community in Iraq, many of whom fear attacks following infection with the virus.

According to CDC figures as of June 7, there have been 1,019 confirmed cases of monkeypox in non-endemic countries since the start of the last outbreak. While most have been reported in Europe and North America, a handful of cases have also been reported in the Middle East, where homosexuality is still a crime in many countries.

In Iraq, homosexuality is legal, but people can be accused of public indecency. Those found guilty face fines and up to six months in prison.

“The general climate in Iraq is that homosexuality is strongly frowned upon, both in public and in private,” said Sally Bachori, an MD/MS candidate living in the United States who grew up in Iraq. Newsweek. “It’s very common for us to hear that a family killed their son/daughter because he was gay/lesbian.”

A stock image shows a male figure with monkeypox lesions.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

This kind of association between monkeypox and gay people will only serve to make life harder and more dangerous for LGBTQ+ people in Iraq and other countries where it is still very risky to be openly gay.

“They really believe monkeypox is caused by homosexual individuals,” Bachori said. “I hate to be pessimistic, but things are not going so well for the future of the LGBTQ+ community in Iraq. Especially after the [now deleted] Muqtada Al-Sadr tweet made a few days ago. The hashtag #كلا_للمثلية (#nogay) is still a trend that people keep tweeting about.”

According Middle Eastern eyeSadr, an Iraqi Shia scholar, politician and militia leader, said in a now-deleted tweet: “I call them [homosexuals] to repent.”

He then called for the repeal of laws that guarantee gay rights in Iraq in order to “protect humanity from the epidemic of monkeypox or what we call homosexual smallpox”.

Bachori said many people in Iraq agree with Sadr’s ideologies on the LGBTQ+ community, even those who are considered highly educated.

“He has a large following and is quite feared by people because his so-called ‘army’ goes after those who speak out against him, threaten them and even kill them,” she said.

Bachori thinks there is a lot of work to be done to move things in the right direction for LGBTQ+ people in Iraq, but fears it will be very difficult as most homophobic beliefs there are rooted in religious beliefs.

“More education needs to be done on these issues to raise awareness, but above all, religious leaders need to stop inciting against gay people. They have a lot to do with why things are the way they are,” she said. .

Many of the first cases of monkeypox were reported in men who have sex with men, and although there is no evidence that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection, countries like the UK Uni have issued official guidelines advising people who have contracted monkeypox to abstain from sex and use a condom for eight weeks after first infection.

Monkeypox is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, which means that it can be transmitted during sexual intercourse, but also during any other physical contact between people of any sexuality.

The initial spike in cases among LGBTQ+ people led many to fear a homophobic backlash like that which occurred with the HIV/AIDS virus in the 1980s, where gay men were treated as “deviants” and health advice for safer sex was denied. People with HIV were sometimes treated like lepers and some people even avoided touching them, although skin-to-skin transmission of HIV was impossible.

The stigmatization of monkeypox as a “gay disease” has already begun. In Germany, the Los Angeles Time reported, graffiti on a Berlin train was spotted that read, “HIV and monkeypox = gift to gay people.”

In the UK, the conservative LGB Alliance has suggested on Twitter that gay clubs/saunas should be closed because of monkey pox to “protect gay and bi men”. These tweets were later deleted by Twitter.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, the United States Representative for Georgia’s 14th congressional district, posted a video saying that “monkeypox is really only transmitted primarily through gay sex” and that “monkeypox can clearly jump from person to person” because “monkeys jump from tree to tree”. “

In an interview with Stew Peters on his podcast, Pastor Stella Immanuel said “the real pandemic here is sexual promiscuity between gay men at sex orgies and participation in satanic depravity”, and that “we should make a law against gay sex” and “lock these people up.”

“I think the stigma associated with it being a ‘gay disease’ will mostly keep men from seeking treatment,” said gender expert Rebecca Minor. Newsweek. “Historically, stigma has meant that men don’t access care as easily, which impacts the ability to identify and treat cases correctly to reduce the spread.

“Gay men aren’t the only population at risk, but it seems to be spreading more acutely within the gay community,” Minor said. “There will be people who will assume they couldn’t get it because they’re not gay and that’s also not accurate.”

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) has also expressed concern about the stigmatizing language used about monkeypox. In a statement, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Matthew Kavanagh said: “Stigma and blame undermine trust and the ability to respond effectively during epidemics like this.

“Experience shows that stigmatizing rhetoric can quickly disable an evidence-based response by fueling cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, hampering case identification efforts and encouraging ineffective punitive measures. .”

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