The far right uses Monkeypox to peddle anti-LGBTQ conspiracies

‘Anti-grooming’ extremists have been going all out on monkeypox, since the CDC said earlier this week they had identified the first two cases in children in the US

For months, the GOP and far-right fringes have been doctoring tired slurs portraying the gay community as inherently predatory, especially when it comes to children. Then, when cases of monkeypox started surging among gay and bisexual men in early summer, the far-right jumped at its last “opportunity” to push anti-LGBTQ hate into the mainstream.

Now they baselessly claim that monkeypox exposes the “real” epidemic: the widespread sexual assault of children by homosexuals. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday during a virtual event with the Washington Post that two children had become the first in the country to contract the virus, and said both were “doing well” and were being treated with the antiviral drug tecovirimat.

During a press conference, the CDC said that the two children – a toddler in California and a baby in Washington, DC – had been in contact with gay or bisexual men, a detail that the Daily Mail splashed as part of its title, which has since been widely shared across far-right online ecosystems.

On Monday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene – who has always used her platform to peddle anti-LGBTQ conspiracies – asked on Twitter: “If Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?”

Monkeypox is not an STI in the classic sense because it is not transmitted through semen, blood, or bodily fluids during sexual contact. The virus typically spreads by droplets via the respiratory tract and other mucous membranes, explained Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease specialist at Texas A&M University.

Another important way the virus spreads is direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a monkeypox rash or scabs, or with clothing or bedding worn or used by an infectious person, he said. she adds.

When the CDC announced the two cases of monkeypox in children, they noted that the virus can be spread through “close skin-to-skin contact.” In the case of children, they said, that could include “cuddling, cuddling, feeding, as well as shared items such as towels, bedding, cups and utensils.”

It is true that the vast majority of cases documented in the United States so far have occurred within the community of men who have sex with men, but there is a simple explanation for this: “The increased number of monkeypox infections initially reported in men who have sex with men can largely be attributed to the initial high-spread events,” said Fischer.

Yet in recent days the far right has seized on the two examples of monkeypox in children to insist – without any evidence – that the only way they could have contracted the virus is from being mugged. by homosexuals.

Far-right activist Laura Loomer, a US congressional candidate from Florida, asked on Telegram: “Who rapes children in DC?” after news broke that an infant had contracted monkey pox. (DC has been at the center of far-right conspiracy theories involving child molesters for years; for example, Hillary Clinton was charged with trafficking children under a pizzeria in the nation’s capital.)

“Gays rape babies and monkeypox is spreading fast in their communities because they can’t stop, or stop raping babies,” Lauren Witzke, a far-right activist with close of 30,000 subscribers on Telegram. “We’re about to see A LOT more child cases, and that should affect everyone.” It’s a topic of conversation in other far-right forums, including Proud Boy affiliate channels 4chan and Patriots.win, a die-hard MAGA site.

The main risk of monkeypox transmission is within households, and the virus will inevitably continue to spread outside of the gay community, Fischer said. “That means children and adolescents will be at risk of infection,” she said. “It is very important to understand that anyone exposed to the monkeypox virus is at risk of infection, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, views on abortion or beliefs. ‘other classifications.’

Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox does not spread easily in casual social situations. However, it is entirely possible that we will see localized outbreaks of the virus if an infectious child comes to class and is in close contact with their peers once school resumes this fall, Fischer said.

All of this has the potential to set the national discourse surrounding monkeypox on a dangerous course. Over the past two years, American schools have turned into political battlegrounds. Angry parents, militias and groups like the Proud Boys have invaded school board meetings on issues like mask mandates and “critical race theory.”

Recently, the culture wars have focused on whether schoolchildren should be able to learn about various sexual orientations or gender identities – something many conservatives say amounts to “grooming”.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which takes effect next year, prohibits teachers from discussing anything LGBTQ-related with children up to age 12. Nineteen other states introduced similar bills this year. Fox News host Laura Ingraham suggested that public schools are “essentially training centers for gender identity radicals.” This climate has already led to the targeting of LGBTQ teachers. A gay teacher in Ohio has lost his job after giving Rainbow Pride wristbands to students who asked about his. School administrators forced an Iowa teacher to quit after a blackmailer exposed him as gay online. This has all coincided with a spike in ultra-violent rhetoric online, with some social media users calling for the execution of specific school officials or teachers they “suspect” of being groomers.

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN (Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teachers Network), said they expect “ongoing attacks on LGBTQ+ youth and teachers as extremists agitate their base at the ‘approaching mid-terms’.

“Extremists are once again pushing misinformation and dangerous rhetoric in an effort to advance an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “This harmful language must be understood for what it is: alarmist and misinformation.”

The CDC has recorded more than 3,500 cases of monkeypox in the United States. Doctors say the first flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, fever and headache, are followed by a rash that can lead to painful sores.

Fischer says it’s important that people continue hygiene and disinfection practices in schools, daycares and workplaces, to help curb the potential future spread of monkeypox.

“Since anyone who comes into contact with the virus can become infected, there should be no social stigma attached to infection,” Fischer said.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter.

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