OPINION: Monkeypox presents a possible opportunity for discrimination, disinformation


Claire Lawrence / Hilltop Views

The Health and Counseling Center remains open to all students. However, St. Edward’s University is not offering any vaccines for monkeypox at this time.

On July 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Monkeypox a global emergency. In the weeks following, several U.S. cities have declared a state of emergency as well, most notably New York City and San Francisco. With cases in the thousands, our government is struggling to roll out vaccines at an effective rate. 

Because the disease has been infecting humans since 1970, two vaccines already exist. However, our governments are not equipped to provide vaccine roll outs as they did with COVID-19. Mass production of these vaccines to make them readily available for the general public is costly and time-consuming, and the disease is spreading quickly. Most cities are offering vaccines to a select group of the population deemed as high-risk. 

In some larger cities, gay men are currently experiencing disproportionate infection rates compared to other subsets of the population. Due to this, both San Francisco and New York City mention sexuality in their vaccine eligibility requirements. They are currently at a higher risk for infection, so they are higher on the priority list. 

In New York City, along with the baseline requirements of being 18 or older and sexually active with multiple partners in the last 14 days, citizens must also identify as at least one of the following: gay, bisexual or any man who has sex with men; transgender, gender non-conforming or gender non-binary; sex workers or anyone engaging in transactional sex. 

It’s important to note that while monkeypox can be spread during sex, it is not a sexually transmitted disease (similarly, COVID-19 can be spread during sex yet it is not an STD). The disease is spread mainly through skin-to-skin contact, but the contact does not have to be sexual in order for the disease to spread.

In addition to sexuality, New York City also states that anyone who identifies as “transgender, gender non-conforming or gender non-binary” is eligible for the vaccine. I’m curious as to why gender identity is included on the list. Why would gender have anything to do with one’s risk of contracting Monkeypox? Is it simply gender nonconformity’s proximity to queerness and gay people? 

I’m apprehensive about the potential politicization of monkeypox, especially after witnessing the politicization of COVID-19 as well as the xenophobia that emerged. Many Asian Americans experienced unjust racism during the height of the pandemic, with many closed-minded people blaming the spread of the disease on them simply because of race. There was a 77% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans from 2019-2020, according to the Department of Justice. I can only hope that this isn’t a pattern that will be noticeable with monkeypox, but considering the racist and xenophobic history of the United States, it’s not out of the question. 

As the situation continues to unfold and governments struggle to mitigate the effects, I worry about what tension will arise. I worry that queer people will be demonized, villanized and targeted. I worry that if the government views monkeypox as a “queer issue” little will be done to slow the spread and aid the sick. 

It’s important to take steps in our personal lives to combat misinformation about monkeypox and support our peers. Although no one on campus has tested positive for the disease yet, COVID-19 has taught us that our health and safety is not always promised. All we can do is practice caution and compassion in the face of yet another public health emergency.