By Bryn Fawn
Monkeypox has dared to sweep the nation whilst the global COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The Center for Disease Control and Protection stated there are a total of 20,733 cases of monkeypox in the United States — 54,911 globally — as of August 22.
However, there are no reported deaths. Vaccines have begun to roll out, but aren’t as heavily pushed as COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC recommends vaccines for gay men, or individuals who have had sex with AMAB, assigned male at birth, individuals.
Cisgender men, men who were born with male sex characteristics and choose to identify with the male gender, are the highest demographic reporting monkeypox cases to the CDC. The CDC also stated: “At this time, data suggest that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men make up the majority of cases in the current monkeypox outbreak. However, anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has been in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.”
The last section of the CDC’s statement is often overlooked. Members of the LGBT community have become a large target for blame for monkeypox. A situation similar to the AIDS epidemic. The HIV/AIDS outbreak occurred 1981, sweeping the nation and killing thousands of queer men.
Although the outbreak has come and gone, the oppression against gay individuals now echoes the oppression monkeypox victims face. There is much to be learned from AIDS activists, especially when it comes to the government response and the social response.
Many assisted during the AIDS epidemic. It has been widely documented that lesbians assisted their “brothers” in need, even when a great fear was the disease was contracted by touch. Princess Diana of Wales was documented touching and meeting HIV positive men, sending waves through the social sphere. Many today can continue this work, assisting monkeypox positive individuals and spreading the facts distributed from government sources.
Susan Sand, assistant director for medical services at the Student Health and Counseling Center, sent out an email to campus notifying the availability of a monkeypox vaccine Sept. 9. Those interested had to fill out a form admitting they were eligible and supplying contact information. Students who submit the form will then be notified when they can be administered the vaccine.
New York State’s Department of Health defines eligible individuals as those who have come into recent contact with positive individuals and those at high risk — such as queer men. Those at risk for contracting monkeypox are encouraged to take the vaccine.
Student Health Center’s web page on SUNY Plattsburgh’s site states that they are working with the Clinton Community Health Department to combat monkeypox. The health center stresses that monkeypox may not be as contagious as COVID-19 but it can still spread. Those who believe they may have contracted the virus should contact the health center immediately.
Leah Sweeney, director of events management on campus, has been a part of the Plattsburgh community for the last nine years starting as an undergraduate student.
“I would say I was born toward the end of the AIDs pandemic,” Sweeney wrote in an email. “I grew up in a very religious household, so despite the more formal end of the epidemic, I remember growing up and being told that ‘being gay/homosexual causes AIDS and was a punishment due to the sin of being gay/homosexual.’ As I got older and into my teen years, my experience, especially as I learned about sex education and the health of my body, was conversations focused on talking about the myth of AIDs. Many of my experiences were people trying to actively disprove the ‘being gay causes AIDs’ and educate people about AIDs.”
The CDC states the federal government officially ended the AIDS epidemic in 2019.
“It’s 2022, why are we still trying to blame health crises on the LGBTQ+ community?” Sweeney said, “I do find it ridiculous and dumb that this is a perspective the media is pushing out. So there is an important lesson here, that the media has huge influence.”
Sweeney also expressed how she understands that her circles may share similar ideas and beliefs, and how important it is to take a step back and understand not everyone thinks alike.
Sweeney also wrote in regards to monkeypox misinformation, “I think the major word that links it all together is education.” Sweeney implores higher education to share correct information on monkeypox several times over. Sweeney states that the best weapon to combat bigotry is sharing the facts to as many as possible.
Sweeney does not consider herself a queer elder, but perhaps a “queer in-between” or “middle earth.” Sweeney said she’s still continuing to learn, and while she may have some wisdom, she does not believe it qualifies her for the queer elder title.
Sweeney donates to queer organizations like Planned Parenthood and The Trevor Project and is the co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Resource Committee. Sweeney believes “everyone deserves to feel comfortable and safe being themselves” and she tries to provide that space.
Sweeney believes that if HIV and AIDS victims had survived today, a common theme in their advocacy would be to “learn from your mistakes,” and “don’t repeat history.”
Sweeney plans to become vaccinated once she is eligible, admitting she is immuno-compromised and that it is important to her.
“I was born quite some time after the height of the AIDs epidemic, but have many family members and friends that lived through and experienced it,” said Gray Norberto, a 21-year-old nonbinary student on campus. “I’ve been told many stories regarding the topic from these people, and they mentioned that it was quite terrifying to see all the people suffering from the illness at the time.”
Norberto goes on to share their fears about the bigotry being targeted towards queer individuals. “I feel as though [queer individuals are] just being used as a scapegoat for bigotry and that this is an excuse for people to be homophobic and transphobic.”
However, Norberto shares optimism for the monkeypox outbreak. Norberto believes that monkeypox will not become as serious as the AIDS epidemic and is strongly considering taking the monkeypox vaccine.
Those interested in becoming vaccinated against monkeypox can contact the Student Health Center for more information.