California state Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco, was at a birthday gathering of mostly gay men recently when the conversation turned to monkeypox.

“We are on our own as always,” Weiner recalls someone saying. “We can’t count on anyone else.”

Sadly, such feelings of isolation and frustration are being borne out by a so-far sluggish and botched response to monkeypox, mostly at the federal level, as the disease spreads among bisexual, transgender and communities of men who have sex with men.

The virus leads to a painful infection that few of us want to think about, especially during the ongoing exhaustion of the COVID-19 crisis. But in the midst of a pandemic during which we supposedly learned the value of quick action to educate and vaccinate, the response to monkeypox is appalling and suggests a collective indifference that stems from the disease largely hitting LGBTQ communities.

Wiener and others compare it to the AIDS epidemic. For decades, those hit hardest by the then-deadly virus fought not just for care, but for society at large to notice and help.Although monkeypox isn’t fatal, usually clearing up without serious side effects in a few weeks, Wiener says he sees similarities between that era and now.

“Once again we have a public health failure for a disease affecting my community,” he told me.“As a gay man, it is really terrifying.”

And wrong — ethically, morally and medically.

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 267 cases of the virus in California, the second-highest number after New York, where 581 people have tested positive.

But these aren’t isolated outbreaks in cities with diverse populations. Georgia has 132 cases. Illinois has 200. Texas has 81.

Monkeypox is nearly everywhere, in at least 45 states, with more than 2,100 cases across the U.S. so far.

For years, infectious-disease experts have warned this could happen. Unlike COVID-19, this isn’t an unknown virus that dropped like a bomb from nowhere. We’ve known about monkeypox since the 1950s and have vaccines and tests — just not enough of them. We also lack a clear plan for getting the available ones to the people who need them most.

All of that chaos is playing out against a backdrop of attacks by the far right on LGBTQ communities across the country. The MAGA types, too many of whom are white supremacists and Christian nationalists, are on the offensive against LGBTQ communities as the next target in their effort to dismantle human and civil rights.

The right to same-sex marriage is in jeopardy. Far-right media, including Fox News, regularly make false claims that anyone who is not heterosexual is somehow “grooming” children, thinly veiled accusations of pedophilia based on sexual orientation.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how the far right is framing monkeypox.

That reality is already affecting the public health response. Behind the scenes, there is debate and division on what the messaging should be. Some want to focus on the fact that monkeypox can affect anyone and can be transmitted without sexual contact — making it a risk to us all.

Close skin-to-skin contact with someone with sores can spread it, as can contact with items like infected bedding. It can also be spread by respiratory droplets, though it requires much more exposure than the coronavirus — more along the lines of kissing or caring for an ill person in close quarters. And the CDC is warning it can be transmitted through animals, such as pets living with an infected person. With fall coming, it’s not hard to foresee a school outbreak at some point, or a superspreader event at a concert or festival.

Others want to focus on its spread through communities of transgender people and men having sex with men. Since those are currently people at the highest risk, it makes sense to target education and vaccinations to these groups.

But some fear messaging focusing only on LGBTQ communities will lead to further stigma and attacks, feeding into that far-right fearmongering and fueling prejudice. That could have the effect of dissuading some from seeking care if they do contract monkeypox, and give the general public the false sense that this virus isn’t a problem for us all.

Thankfully, this isn’t the 1980s, Kate Bush’s resurgence aside. Those most affected by monkeypox aren’t afraid to speak out, and to demand better.

Matt Ford, an actor, writer and producer who splits his time between West Hollywood and New York City, made a TikTok about his bout of the pox that went viral and started some important conversations.

On June 17, Ford, who had not thought much about monkeypox until then, received a call from a friend whom he’d spent time with the week before — and who now had monkeypox. Within minutes, Ford realized he had sores too. By the time he was able to secure a test result a week later, the lesions, about 25 total, had spread to his face and lots of other places, putting him in so much distress he couldn’t sleep without painkillers.

Ford had the good sense to isolate himself as soon as he saw the spots, but after the confirmed diagnosis, he received a health order requiring him to stay in his home — which he did for three weeks and three days, until cleared by a medical visit.

When I spoke with him this week, he was back in New York and happy to be free. And despite the trolls, happy he spoke out.

“I think a lot of people weren’t taking it seriously before, myself included,” he said. He hopes “being candid about it and reiterating there is no reason for shame and stigma” helps change the conversation.

It’s an alarming time, he said of all that far-right furor, and he hopes “people show up for us in this moment,” for the health of a vulnerable community and the health of a democracy that is being purposefully divided by hate.

I do too, because indifference is its own virus — one we should be ashamed to spread.

Anita Chabria is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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