With at least one confirmed monkeypox case in Toronto, efforts are ramping up to address any early misconceptions about the virus and reduce potential stigma.
“I think what we’re really hearing really spans from curiosity, plenty of questions,” Dane Griffiths, the director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance, said when asked about how members of the LGBTQ2S+ community say they’re feeling.
He is among those on the frontlines working on getting factual information about monkeypox as it’s being learned out in the community.
“We’re really just saying that this is something to pay attention to. There’s certainly a lot that we know about monkeypox, but there are plenty of outstanding questions with regards to the current dynamics of transmission within our community,” Griffiths said.
The need to get out as much accurate information as possible is escalating amid reports several of the confirmed and suspected monkeypox cases involve men who have sex with men, something that has fueled intolerance before.
“I think our histories as gay men and queer people, of course, lived and living through the HIV and AIDS epidemic, have plenty of experience with stigma, with discrimination, with connecting our sex or our sexual health with notions of danger and of risk broader public,” Griffiths said.
“I think that sensitivity is to be expected. It goes without saying as many health officials even here in Ontario will say, illnesses, viruses and diseases like monkeypox don’t have a sexual orientation.
Those who are a part of, and work with, the LGBTQ2S+ community said we’re hearing about this connection now likely because of a commitment to sexual health testing and assessments.
“There are folks in our community who are seeking out testing, getting assessed, that continues I think a long history of health-seeking behaviour by gay and bisexual men to engage with public health and with our sexual health clinics and we certainly want to see that continue,” Griffiths added.
“The folks who are presenting at the sexual health clinics as was the case in Montreal just happened to be gay and bisexual men. There is nothing to suggest that monkeypox won’t impact other populations and other communities, that just remains to be seen.”
It’s a sentiment Dr. Darrell Tan, an infectious diseases physician and clinician-scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said he agrees with.
“Sexual minority communities… have a history of resilience, of self-reliance, of looking out for each other, of creativity in the face of adversity that I think we can really lean on in a very uncertain time like we find ourselves right now with monkeypox,” he told CityNews.
Tan recently met with LGBTQ2S+ community organizations to address questions, but said he and other medical professionals are trying to quickly learn more about.
“As a scientist and as a physician, I feel it really, really acutely just how much we don’t know. We know some things, but there’s an awful lot that we still don’t know,” he said.
“It’s been literally since the beginning of this month, really just a couple of weeks, since reports anywhere in these non-endemic countries have even come out recognizing this was happening.”