Mainstream journalists have adopted what critics are calling a “don’t say gay” approach to covering the monkeypox outbreak in the United States. The media’s coverage of monkeypox, which officials in New York and California have declared a threat to public health amid rising case numbers, has studiously avoided using the word “gay” when discussing the individuals who are most at risk of contracting the viral disease.
Journalists insist on using the phrase “men who have sex with men”—decades-old terminology often used during the AIDS epidemic—to explain the fact that gay and bisexual men comprise about 98 percent of more than 18,000 monkeypox cases worldwide. Some left-wing activists have argued that even pointing this out is “stigmatizing,” while more sane individuals have suggested this is “particularly important information for gay men to know.”
Some “don’t say gay” advocates want to go even further. Earlier this week, New York City health commissioner Ashwin Vasan called on the World Health Organization to rename the monkeypox virus due to “a growing concern for the potentially stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on vulnerable communities.”
It is unclear whether the media’s refusal to say “gay” is related to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, known to mainstream journalists and other critics as the “don’t say gay” law.