Monkeypox misinformation is stigmatising gay and bi men

We are issuing the following correction to our statement “Monkeypox misinformation is stigmatising gay and bi men”

We stated that “Monkeypox is not spread through sexual contact”. A more accurate explanation of this is “Monkeypox is spread through close contact, which does not require sexual contact”. Our aim was to explain that normal safer sex practices will not prevent contracting monkeypox from someone with monkeypox. We will continue to bring you up to date information on monkeypox through our social media and website. Happy Pride!

The Rainbow Project are deeply concerned by comments across social media and the in our local media surrounding the recent cases of Monkeypox in Northern Ireland. We are particularly concerned by questions and discourse on this morning’s Stephen Nolan show. We feel this segment and many of the articles and wider public commentary are causing further stigmatism toward gay and bisexual men and the wider LGBTQIA+ Community. To date, there have been only 18 cases of Monkeypox in Northern Ireland. Monkeypox is spread through close contact, which does not require sexual contact. But focusing on sexual relationships or activity is stigmatising, counterproductive and sensationalising an important health message.

Monkeypox isn’t new, nor does it solely affect gay and bisexual men. The Rainbow Project recognises that a sizable number of the confirmed cases of monkeypox in the UK have been amongst gay and bi men. Infection rates are higher amongst gay and bi men because it was among this group that the most recent cases in the UK were identified. Post covid we have all reduced the amount of physical contact we have with others so it is not surprising that those who are most at risk of new infections are those who are likely to have close contact with those who are infected. While this is the case at the moment, we must all be vigilant as the virus does not discriminate and doesn’t care how or whose body it enters.

During this morning’s Stephen Nolan show, the blatant emphasis on gay or bi male sexual acts, questions and comments focused on sexual activity were homophobic, especially when the representative from the Public Health Agency repeatedly stated that anyone with monkeypox can pass it on, regardless of sexual orientation and that this does not require sexual contact.  We need to have clear and targeted public information for the LGBTQIA+ community especially as we enter Pride season. We expect all our media to take an evidence-based approach to health messaging and to be aware of the stigma experienced, particularly by gay and bisexual men, in relation to targeted health messaging.

This can be accomplished without stigmatising the LGBTQIA+ community and misleading connections between sexual orientation and disease within our community. We need to be amplifying health messaging through social media which is targeted toward at-risk groups such as the LGBTQIA+ communities. While Monkeypox is treatable there are a limited number of vaccines available and this puts people at risk of infection at higher risk.

Belfast Pride is the biggest gathering of LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland and tens of thousands of people will be joining the events.  We recognise that there will be a greater risk of transmission of the virus if anyone attending the event has Monkeypox which is why we are working with the Public Health Agency to make sure that appropriate information gets out to the wider LGBTQIA+ Community to make sure they are aware of the symptoms, and when and where to get support. We have repeatedly learned with HIV, substance use disorders, COVID-19 and other diseases, stigmatizing language that casts blame on specific communities such as gay and bi men or people of colour, undermines disease response and discourages those who need treatment from seeking it.


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