Northwestern faculty talk monkeypox risk factors at LGBTQ+-focused discussion


Daily file illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The Friday monkeypox discussion focused on which community members are most at risk, what the risk factors are and how to prevent that risk.

Nicole Markus, Social Media Editor

The Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and the Sexualities Project at Northwestern held an LGBTQ+-focused monkeypox conversation Friday after concerns arose that NU administration was not providing necessary information on the virus.

In an email sent to students Aug. 9, NU Medicine Student Health Service said monkeypox is not linked to sexual activity or orientation. English and gender and sexuality studies Prof. Nick Davis said NU’s original message was careful to avoid stigmatized language, which meant it became “neutralized.”

“The impression was that it would be left to us to make sure that information got out,” Davis said. 

According to Davis, the University has since proven to be collaborative, with a revised message sent by administration Wednesday. However, Davis said, GSS felt it was important to speak in an informal setting to students and faculty about community care and prevention advice. 

Medill Prof. Steven Thrasher and philosophy Prof. Chad Horne led the event. The discussion focused on which community members are most at risk, what the risk factors are and how to prevent that risk. 

The discussion also followed an op-ed published in The Daily by 26 gay and queer-identifying faculty that outlined specific actions individuals could take to reduce risk of contracting monkeypox, including self-education.

Though anyone can contract monkeypox, the virus is predominantly affecting men who have sex with men. Currently, 99% of cases are in men, according to Horne. To reduce risk, individuals should have conversations with their sexual partners, reduce the number of new and casual partners and use a condom. 

While it’s important to use stigma-free language, Thrasher said officials must remain clear about which activities primarily spread monkeypox or else they risk creating unnecessary panic.

“Being near each other is not how this spreads,” Thrasher said. “If you don’t name that it’s moving sexually, that opens the door for, ‘I don’t want to sit next to a gay student, I don’t want to dorm with them, I don’t want to eat with them.’”

Thrasher and Horne said vaccine supplies and information about where to get vaccinated were sparse over the summer. Horne said focusing on vaccinating those most at risk is important to reduce the virus’ spread. Monkeypox has affected Black and Latine communities at a higher rate than white communities. Thrasher said this might be because white men are receiving more vaccines.

“With almost any distribution channel that you pick, relatively more privileged people are able to get those vaccines,” Thrasher said.

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Twitter: @nicolejmarkus

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