Credit: (source: vista.com)

S.E. Williams

On June 12, 2022 the CDC reported 45 cases of monkey pox in the U.S, however by July 15, 2022 the number of monkeypox cases in the nation had grown to 1400–a notable increase.

Riverside County reported two additional “probable” cases of monkeypox in the region on July 8. The announcement came on the heels of the county’s recent confirmation of Riverside’s first case by the CDC. 

There have been more than 3,000 confirmed monkeypox cases in countries beyond Central and West Africa so far this year. The hopeful news is, so far at least, no deaths have been reported in the western world and this remains true in the U.S. according to recent CDC assessments.  

“When the AIDS plague finally took hold in the U.S., it surged through communities that the straight world preferred not to see. It took a few tries. The virus lurked in tropical regions of central Africa, and made several incursions into the American continent before becoming a global pandemic. HIV likely killed a young man in St. Louis in 1969, just one month before the Stonewall riots.”

Tim Fitzsimons

According to recent reports, no less than 70 deaths from monkeypox have been reported across five African countries so far this year.  Experts suspect this is probably an undercount because of limited testing and surveillance capacity according to the World Health Organization. 

As the monkeypox virus spreads 

The number of monkeypox cases continue to climb in the U.S. and the world–even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to simmer after having set the nation and the world back on its heels for more than two years. And, people are paying attention to this latest global health concern. 

The good news is that unlike the COVID-19 virus, although the monkeypox virus is spreading, it is not threatening lives in America. 

However, something more subtle may be putting the health of an entire  community at greater risks for this rare virus and the political vulnerability surrounding this potential has created an uncomfortable forum for discussion regarding the spread of monkeypox in America.  

Remembering history

Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The CDC and other health officials are reporting the monkey pox virus seems to be spreading more intently among gay men.  As a result, the question now becomes how do we as a society address this risk?

Though not deadly–at least not yet–as the AIDS virus, those of us in the LGBTQ+ community of a certain age are still haunted by the early days of the AIDS pandemic as we watched members of our community suffer and die in unprecedented numbers because of who they loved while the world–and at times, even members of their own families, turned a blind eye to their suffering and death.  

Memories of those dark days of ignorance, prejudice, fear and death remind us how easily this nation can slip into a nightmarish reality where human lives are dispensable and where good Americans easily step over the bodies of the expendable with less consideration than given to a wounded animal. 

For Black members of the LGBTQ+ community the AIDs virus would become a double burden because as it spread from the gay community to the Black community its impact was also grevious and remains so in Black communities across the country. 

At the crossroads

(source: luskin.ucla.edu)

Can we meet the challenge of this new virus with the care and compassion we lacked during the early days of AIDS and work to educate and inform those now considered at highest risk? Or, do we revert to our old ways of homophobic biases and refuse to address the monkeypox virus with the urgency it deserves because it is impacting a community many believe undeserving of public health support. 

I hope Americans will neither malign nor blame those in the gay community contracting monkeypox as they did those who fell victim to AIDS.

The future impact of monkeypox on members of the gay community remains unknown. What is known however, is that gay men now appear at greater risk for contracting the illness. 

On the one hand the more this is discussed in the public square, the more likely the gay community will draw the ire of America’s bigots and  homophobes who will work overtime to ignite the flames of discontent and fear. But, we can not afford to remain silent. 

We must educate members of the gay community to take precaution and we must ensure monkeypox vaccines become readily available to gay men.   

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.