Jonathan Van Ness says 'botched' monkeypox response 'fueled by homophobia and transphobia'

·4 min read

Jonathan Van Ness is criticizing the Biden administration for the "botched response" to the monkeypox outbreak, primarily affecting LGBTQ men.

The 35-year-old "Queer Eye" star wrote an essay for Time magazine published Monday, calling out the government's vaccine rollout and prevention measures pertaining to monkeypox.

"In many ways, I believe it's been fueled by homophobia and transphobia," they wrote of the response. "When an outbreak affects mainly men who have sex with men, some portion of our elected legislators will have no incentive to act. He thinks it will not touch their constituents, which is obviously messed up because people's lives are at stake, and there are queer people in all 50 states."

'Bursts of sharp jabbing pain': What it's like to have monkeypox – and the fight against stigma

Monkeypox is spreading through sex but it's not an STI.Why calling it one is a problem.

Van Ness, who is HIV-positive, compared the slow response regarding monkeypox to the AIDS epidemic. "I’ve been really disappointed in our leaders, especially those who were in office during the onslaught of the AIDS crisis, like President (Joe) Biden and Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi," they said.

"Once again, we're seeing too little action taken until the situation has ballooned out of control. If nothing changes, we'll continue to experience failures like this response, which has been plagued with too few tests, lack of access to treatments, inadequate vaccine supply, and ambiguous guidance," the "Getting Curious" host added.

The World Health Organization said monkeypox was a global health emergency late last month. Biden's administration declared the U.S. outbreak a public health emergency Aug. 4. On Monday, the administration announced it would be making 442,000 doses of the vaccine available to states.

Monkeypox is not a gay disease.: But LGBTQ leaders say they need more help for gay men and everyone else

Van Ness said the move by Biden's administration is "a step in the right direction — but it was a day late and a dollar short." They added that "anything short of robust access to vaccines for every single queer person in the country" and easy access to treatment is a governmental failure.

They added: "If you’ve ever watched 'Queer Eye' and 'Yes, Queen'-ed along with me, I have an ask for you: put pressure on your state representatives and federal representatives to improve vaccine access.

Although monkeypox is predominantly (not exclusively) affecting LGBTQ men, Van Ness said "everyone should care about monkeypox" because "we should care about each other."

The U.S. had reported 11,890 confirmed cases as of Monday, per the CDC. Highly-populated states are leading the numbers – with 2,376 confirmed cases in New York, followed by 1,945 confirmed cases in California.

Jonathan Van Ness said the administrative response to monkeypox has been "fueled by homophobia and transphobia."
Jonathan Van Ness said the administrative response to monkeypox has been "fueled by homophobia and transphobia."

Addressing myths about monkeypox: A look at symptoms, treatment and other common questions

Monkeypox is not an STI. How it's spread.

Caused by a virus in the same family as smallpox, monkeypox is transmissible through person-to-person contact with rashes, scabs or bodily fluids, as well as touching infected items like clothing. The incubation period, the time between infection and symptoms, is usually six to 13 days but can be five to 21 days. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, exhaustion and a rash that can appear on the body. It is fatal for up to 1 in 10 people, WHO says. No deaths have been reported in the current U.S. outbreak.

Dr. Stella Safo, an HIV primary care physician and founder of Just Equity For Health, says it matters greatly that we get transmission messaging correct in relation to monkeypox. If it's framed as an STI when it's not, the general public may:

  1. Think they're at lower risk when they might not be.

  2. Won't know how to prevent themselves from getting sick.

  3. Won't know if or when to get help if they start showing symptoms.

"Many people (may) think, 'Well, I'm not having sex. I'm not a gay man. So I'm good no matter what.' When in reality, monkeypox is a contact-based disease."

What doesn't help, Safo adds, are public officials who aren't "super clear" in their framing, especially with the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. At that time, hundreds of thousands died from a virus that seemed to target certain communities though no one was immune – all worsened by a lack of action to help stop the spread. Despite progress in medicines and awareness around HIV today, the disease continues to more severely afflict gay and bisexual men who are Latino and Black.

"When public health bodies are saying we're seeing men who have sex with men have monkeypox at a higher rate, people are hearing this as, 'Oh, this is a gay disease' or 'This is another sexually transmitted disease.' It's getting conflated in people's minds."

More: As monkeypox cases rise, health expert says travelers shouldn't worry about casual contact

How many monkeypox cases are in my state: NY, CA report highest numbers; US vaccine supply

Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Philips, Sara M Moniuszko, Karen Weintraub, Maureen Groppe and Michael Collins, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jonathan Van Ness on 'homophobia' and slow monkeypox outbreak response