For LGBTQ people in New York City, the last Friday in June is usually a joyful day. The streets come alive with the telltale signs of a celebratory weekend: music, dancing, kissing, the occasional trail of glitter confetti.
But this year, on the cusp of the city’s biggest Pride events, the atmosphere had a different charge. The news on Friday morning of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade immediately shifted the tenor of the weekend’s events. In many circles, group chats that had days before being focused on party planning switched to coordinating protest plans. Further complicating people’s attitudes heading into the weekend are questions and concerns surrounding monkeypox, a virus that is disproportionately affecting gay men.
On Thursday, New York City health officials expanded access to a monkeypox vaccine, offering it to men who have had multiple or anonymous male sexual partners in the last 14 days. As of Friday, 39 people in New York City had tested positive for orthopoxvirus, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which added that all 39 cases were believed to be monkeypox.
According to the World Health Organization, monkeypox is transmitted from person to person via close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials. The virus typically begins with flulike symptoms, such as a fever and swollen lymph nodes, and progresses to a painful rash.
Though anyone can contract the virus, it is currently spreading primarily through communities of men who have sex with men, officials have said.
As photos of long lines of people waiting to be vaccinated at a sexual health clinic in Manhattan circulated on social media, and as news spread of monkeypox cases throughout the world, some New Yorkers began to reconsider their plans for Pride weekend.
Joseph Osmundson, a clinical assistant professor of biology at New York University and a queer health care advocate, said that growing concerns about monkeypox had affected the Pride plans of “almost everyone” he knew.
“Everything from, if you go to circuit party, are you going to be in the middle of the dance floor or are you going to be more off to the side, to the types of sex you’re having,” Dr. Osmundson, 39, said in a phone interview.
He said he thought people were generally “making risk-aware decisions” while still making space for “companionship, pleasure, community and getting out of the house.”
Finley King, 24, a film production assistant, said that both monkeypox concerns and the Roe news were affecting his plans for this weekend, but that he would feel relatively comfortable attending a protest and standing on the sidelines, or going to an outdoor party.
“In terms of being worried, I’m at, like, a 4 out of 10 on the panic scale,” he said, adding that he hadn’t seen many of his friends discussing the disease. “I would say mostly people around my age, it’s either they know about monkeypox and they don’t care, or they don’t even know about it at all.”
Outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on Friday, Rusty Fox, 59, said that what little apprehension he was feeling about monkeypox was probably just residual anxiety from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m a little paranoid, just because we’re following right behind Covid,” he said. “So that paranoia is kind of trickling over.”
Michael Donnelly, a data scientist, expressed frustration that this year’s Pride festivities were being colored by yet another virus.
“It really stinks that we have to deal with yet another infectious disease that’s spreading within our community and have to deal with an additional risk that we didn’t anticipate,” he said. But to Mr Donnelly, 37, the “enormous demand” for the monkeypox vaccine on Thursday pointed to a silver lining.
“I’m proud that we have a community that’s communicating about our health, about science, and is willing to get vaccines to keep ourselves safe and also our communities safe,” he said.
What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus
What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a virus endemic to parts of Central and West Africa. It is similar to smallpox, but less severe. It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance for lowering the chance of contracting monkeypox, noting that festivals, concerts and other events where attendees were likely to be fully clothed were safer than spaces, including raves, saunas and sex clubs, where minimal clothing was worn.
Some, like Chris Pierce, 26, felt confident their personal precautions were sufficient.
“It’s definitely something that people should be worried about, especially when we’re in closed doors and walls,” he said, “but staying outside is probably my No. 1 goal this weekend.”
The only facility in New York administering the vaccine, the city-run Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic in Manhattan, had to start turning people away almost immediately after opening up vaccination to eligible New Yorkers on Thursday.
As for his plans this weekend, Mr Donnelly said he was “one of the lucky few who got a vaccine, and so I do feel some degree of extra security as a result.”
Jonathan Valdez, 36, a content creator and podcast host, said that for the first time, a friend of his told him he was glad to be missing New York City Pride, citing concerns about monkeypox. “A lot of people are fearful that after this weekend,” Mr. Valdez said, “the numbers are going to go up a lot.”
Jeremy Allen contributed reporting.
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