Right-wing media outlets and pundits have responded to the rise in monkeypox cases in the United States, which have been found almost exclusively among gay and bisexual men, with a mix of homophobia, misinformation about the origins of the disease, or outright dismissal of the threat it poses. The right has also pushed the conspiracy theory that monkeypox health precautions are either a pretext to surrender U.S. sovereignty to the World Health Organization, or a liberal hoax to tyrannically control citizens through fear.
Much of the homophobia from the right took the form of sophomoric-but-hateful jokes whose punchlines rely on the discomfort straight people have with the idea of sex between men. Perhaps nobody embodies this stale, bigoted approach better than stale, bigoted Fox News host Greg Gutfeld, who hosts an eponymous “comedy” show on the cable network.
On several occasions, Gutfeld has used the disease, and the fact that, as of now, it’s almost exclusively affecting gay and bisexual men, as the comedic premise for an entire segment of his show.
“Will a monkeypox shot stop the danger from having sex with a horny stranger?” Gutfeld said to introduce the topic on his June 30 show. He continued that it has mostly infected “men who have had sex with other men at parties” and, addressing fellow Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, added that the United States “has not seen any deaths yet, but just to be safe, Kilmeade, no more sleepovers.” Kilmeade is married to a woman; the joke here is that it’s funny to call him gay.
Gutfeld later asked Kilmeade, who hosts Fox & Friends, how the morning show was covering the issues.
“Running from it,” Kilmeade responded, before downplaying the symptoms and known number of cases. “What is the big deal? Walk it off, we’re Americans.”
The segment also included a pre-taped bit in which a monkey doctor addressed questions at a fake press conference, including one from a character with a stereotypical lisp who asked if the monkey would “consider spending a sexual weekend with me in Cabo.” Whether intentional or not, the segment drew on the long-standing homophobic idea that HIV/AIDS emerged because of gay men having sex with monkeys.
Back at the panel, Gutfeld tee’d up Donald Trump senior adviser Lara Trump to mock the subject.
“You know, Lara, apparently monkeypox is spread by gay anonymous sex at raves,” he said with an inflection that signaled he was saying something funny. “What are your thoughts?”
“Well how long do we have?” Trump said in a jokey, over-the-top response.
“You know, we are the only show that has been consistently covering this topic almost every week, sometimes every day, even if there are 300 cases, because it’s just great to talk about,” Gutfeld concluded.
The previous week, Gutfeld used almost the exact same homophobic set-up in a panel with Fox News host Emily Compagno.
“All right, last question to you, Emily, monkeypox is caused by anonymous gay anal sex at raves,” Gutfeld said. “Care to comment?”
“I’m OK on that one,” Compagno dodged, highlighting her discomfort with the very idea for comedic effect.
Other conservatives “comedians” got in on the bit as well. At PJMedia, Kevin Downey Jr. wrote an entire blog about what he considers strange sexual practices among men who have sex with men and the spread of monkeypox, and how to address the outbreaks.
“Just a hunch, but perhaps we can start by abstaining from group sex with gay men who recently romped around Antwerp dressed as dogs and horses,” he wrote.
Much of the overt anti-gay panic among right-wing pundits took place on Twitter.
Right-wing pundit James Lindsay deployed homophobic innuendo to make a confusing point about government control:
Conservative commentator Bethany Mandel responded to a since-deleted tweet about people in New York City waiting for a vaccine:
Conservative writer and Viktor Orban-apologist Rod Dreher also weighed in:
As did Fox News Radio host Jimmy Failla:
Far-right YouTube personality Ian Miles Cheong made a similar comment:
Conservative has-been Ann Coulter “joked” about the disease as a reason for Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis to avoid visiting a Manhattan neighborhood associated with the LGBTQ community.
And conservative writer Anna James Zeigler suggested monkeypox was a sign that non-monogamy was unnatural:
There are many fair criticisms to level at how the the Biden administration and many Democratic-led cities and states have handled the monkeypox outbreak. Well-meaning public safety messaging that the outbreak can affect anyone has led to confusion among the highest-risk populations. There have been unforgivable vaccine shortages and logistical failures for getting those shots into peoples’ arms. Even when conservatives make these critiques without engaging in homophobia, there is typically a COVID-denialist undertone.
Even those pieces are opportunistic and disingenuous. The right-wing media spent all of June calling the LGBTQ community “groomers” and disrupting Pride Month events. It’s hard to take them at face value in their ostensibly objective criticism of Democratic approaches to the public safety of gay and bisexual people.
Monkeypox is a real public health risk that for now is almost exclusively affecting men who have sex with men. Local, state, and federal government agencies have legitimately failed these populations. Homophobic attacks from conservatives only serve to stigmatize them and put them further at risk, both of monkeypox and broader anti-gay violence.