I received the monkeypox vaccine on July 29th. Because? I’ll be honest with you: the main reason for doing this was that if I got infected and developed skin lesions, my appearance could be affected.
I wouldn’t have let that happen, not under my watch.
So, I went to Eugene Obregon Park in East Los Angeles, where the county was distributing the vaccine. I was able to get a chance because I fall into one of the groups eligible to receive it. I waited inside a community center gym in a long, meandering line with about 60 other people. Forty other people were sitting in the post-shooting area to make sure they didn’t have a bad reaction to the dose. The setting looked a lot like the one I encountered for my covid vaccine shots.
The launch of the national monkeypox vaccine was already far from ideal, marred by insufficient testing sites and scarce vaccine supplies.
But people in the LGBTQ community (or still affected by the community’s sexual health) have faced further struggles that are all too familiar: stigma over sexuality and racial disparity.
There is a fear in the LGBTQ community that by accessing sexual health care, you will be seen as promiscuous. In the case of monkeypox, if that fear prevents someone at risk from getting vaccinated or seeking care, it could help the virus spread. For example, California, where I live, just declared a state of emergency for monkeypox due to an increase in cases.
When I told a friend that I had obtained the photo, she asked how she could get one. I told her that in Los Angeles County, in addition to receiving an invitation from the health department (which happens if you come into contact with a confirmed case), you must meet one of three requirements to be vaccinated: be diagnosed with gonorrhea or syphilis. in the last year; are currently taking pills to prevent HIV infection, a regimen known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); or having attended a place where anonymous sex with multiple partners took place. He looked at me with a smile, knowing that I had qualified.
This isn’t the first time the community has faced the social stigma on healthcare. The same dynamic occurred in 2012, when Truvada became the first HIV prevention drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Truvada was already used to treat people with HIV infection. But this was the first time the FDA has approved a drug to protect people not infected with HIV.
Studies reveal that stigma and homophobia have led to less prevalence of PrEP, a highly effective means of preventing HIV transmission. These problems have been exacerbated by media coverage, such as a now infamous Huffington Post opinion piece entitled “Truvada Whores?” from a writer who argued that gay men would see drugs as a gateway to engaging in sexually risky behavior. And in 2018, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by an AIDS historian on the decline in condom use among gay men due to the rise of PrEP.
Fears that the drug will make gay men too willing to engage in risky sexual drug encounters have led to what the news has called a “PrEP cabinet,” in which people taking the drug will not discuss it because they are worried about it. how they will make it be perceived.
In addition to the stigmatization of the monkeypox vaccine, some reports have framed monkeypox as a “gay disease”. And framing the discussions in this way risks influencing those who decide to stay in that open line and get vaccinated.
And while I, an openly gay man, am not afraid to say I’m on PrEP (that’s how I qualified for the monkeypox vaccine), what if I wasn’t open about any of those things? What if you were to stand in this long line as someone who isn’t ready to share their connection with the LGBTQ community? This experience would be difficult at the very least and, most likely, even traumatic.
Joey Espinoza-Hernández, director of policy and community building at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, explained how this can make people vulnerable.
“You are really thinking about the people who are disconnected from resources,” Espinoza-Hernández said. “They won’t necessarily go to their doctor and proactively provide information about their sexual activity. And therefore, a health care worker may not know how to guide him to the resources that would be most appropriate for him. “
While waiting to be vaccinated, I noticed a young man dressed all in black who looked terrified. He hasn’t made eye contact with anyone. Ironically, it was her apparent efforts to hide that caught my attention.
He could have made it a little better for him that the vaccine site wasn’t a clinic tailored for the queer community, which health organizations claim to do on purpose.
“There are many people who will not identify with the community. And so they will choose not to go to LGBTQ + clinics, “said Ahmer Afroz, executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation. As a result, his organization has sought to reach people through both channels.
And while anecdotal, as a black man, I couldn’t help but notice that I was just one of three black men in line for the shot – unsurprising if you go back and look at the studies on who accesses PrEP. Black men who have sex with men are less likely to get the drug and disclose their sexual identity and sexual behaviors to healthcare professionals due to stigma. Health researchers have attributed this to factors such as distrust of health systems, socio-structural barriers and homophobia.
When I was in my late teens, I was at home in Cincinnati during the college summer vacation. I remember going to a clinic for routine STD testing and a counselor asked me if I had been intimate with someone of the same sex for the past 30 days. I said yes. He made a face that was a mixture of shock and horror. Subtle cues, or less, from those who work in these spaces can make it more difficult for those in need of care to seek it out.
I thought it was fun and have never hesitated to get the health care that keeps me safe. But if I hadn’t gone to school in Chicago and experienced more accepting communities, the experience might have made me feel immoral. Worse still, I may not have gone to get health care related to LGBTQ issues in the future.
There are signs, however, that the community may be more inclined to get vaccinated against monkeypox than heterosexuals. Afroz points out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that gay and lesbian adults are more likely to be vaccinated against covid than those outside those communities. While the two are different shots, there are some possible behavioral parallels.
I have decided to speak freely about my experiences because there are nuances that the LGBTQ community faces that are often not considered. It’s inconvenient to know that my editor and colleagues will know these intimate details about me, but if it helps just one person, it will be worth it.
As San Francisco State Senator Scott Wiener recently said on social media: “The monkeypox outbreak is an emergency & amp; we must use all the tools we have to control it. ”And if we have learned a lesson from the pandemic, it is that information can be a powerful tool in helping people stay healthy.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for the copy editing of this article.