'Viruses don't discriminate': Expert outraged by homophobic reactions to monkeypox

'Viruses don't discriminate': Expert outraged by homophobic reactions to monkeypox
Credit: Belga

A Belgian expert took the social media to make it clear that the monkeypox virus does not discriminate against certain population groups, following homophobic reactions to the fact that the first cases in the country were detected in gay men.

Since it emerged that the first infections with the monkeypox virus in Belgium can be traced back to Darklands, a fetish festival primarily frequented by gay men, social media are being flooded with homophobic comments and insults to the LGBTQ community.

These comments sparked the outrage of Piet Hoebeke, Urology Professor and the Dean of the Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty at the University of Ghent, who pointed out that there is no scientific reason to assume that the transmission of the virus is greater among gay men.

"It is incredible how a virus that is spread through skin contact and that happened to be detected in some gay men is cause for homophobia and derogatory reproaches right away," he said on Twitter. "We are the new bats, apparently. Dumbasses, viruses do not discriminate."

In the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Hoebeke further explained that far too little is known about the virus to draw any solid conclusions at this point.

"There are just too few cases, there is no epidemiological study. But society likes to look for a scapegoat," he told the newspaper. "People now read the words 'gay' and 'virus' and assume that anal sex has something to do with it. But that is not science, it is a bunch of prejudices lumped together."

Based on what is known about the virus, it spreads through skin-to-skin contact – meaning that it will spread just as quickly in people who are not homosexual.

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"But it is not surprising that the virus appears after a festival for fetish lovers: there are many people close to each other," said Hoebeke. "If it would spread more easily among gay people, it would be because they maybe have physical contact a little easier. And there is nothing wrong with that.”

He compared the hateful and homophobic comments on social media to similar reactions following the outbreak of the AIDS virus in the 1980s.

“In 1981, I was studying medicine, and a professor told us about the 'new gay cancer,' and how homosexuals only had themselves to blame," Hoebeke said. "41 years later, I read the same discourse about the monkeypox virus. This is sad, and also makes me very angry."

To Het Nieuwsblad, he said that emotion takes over, and reason goes out the window. "That was the case with HIV, and that is apparently the case again."

"At that time there was indeed a higher risk, but with the monkeypox virus, that conclusion is simply crazy. People are just guessing at random, without any knowledge of the facts. I just find it disgusting," he said. "I know people are like that, but I do not like it. As scientists, it is our job to give maximum resistance to such nonsense and misinformation.”

Lozano Lafertin of the Flemish LGBTQ organisation 'çavaria' also stressed that while warnings of the spread of the monkeypox in Belgium have appeared, there is no reason to make the link with the LGBTQ community. "It makes sense that everyone should remain vigilant, but there is really no reason to stigmatise our community."

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