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Monkeypox Worries Loom as Atlanta Black Pride Starts

At one of the largest LGBTQ+ celebrations in the country, attendees have mixed feelings about their safety and the government response to the outbreak.

Atlanta Black Pride is this weekend, and people are going. But they still have concerns about monkeypox. (Joao Kermadec/Getty Images)

Quinten Fleming just moved to Atlanta from Raleigh, North Carolina, two weeks ago. Fleming, a business analyst for a pharmaceutical company, is looking forward to going to his first Atlanta Black Pride Weekend as a resident. He also has some concerns. With the looming threat of monkeypox, he’s getting flashbacks to the coronavirus pandemic. He said that despite his apprehension for the current outbreak, having to go back to taking COVID-19-like precautions is a no-go.

“You get scared to go back to being in a corner,” Fleming said. “It’s like, ‘Don’t touch me. Don’t breathe on me.’ I hope it doesn’t get to be as big of an epidemic as COVID-19, but it’s possible.” 

As tens of thousands head to Atlanta for Atlanta Black Pride weekend events, monkeypox is on the mind of attendees. In Georgia, almost 80% of cases of monkeypox have involved Black men who have sex with men. Many attendees have mixed feelings about whether to take precautions that would look similar to the early days of COVID-19, or to live their social lives to the fullest. They also question whether local and federal governments acted urgently enough in disseminating information about monkeypox and in providing vaccines.

Georgia has over 1,400 cases, one of the highest counts in the nation. And while the state was quick to get vaccinations, the actual rollout has been slow. With Black people making up the vast majority of cases in the state, they also only make up 44% of those who have gotten vaccinated. 

Attendees who spoke to Capital B Atlanta said they are worried about the spread of monkeypox during events, but they still plan to go. Chris Thomas, who attended the city’s third annual Black Pride Reception, hosted by Mayor Andre Dickens, said he plans to go to the Pure Heat Community Festival at Central Park this Sunday, which is expecting a crowd of over 5,000. 

“I am a little bit more concerned,” said Thomas, who got vaccinated ahead of the holiday weekend. “You never know if people are having safe sex, if they’re masking up. All of those factors can contribute to, you know, any kind of outbreak.”

Efforts by county health departments to vaccinate additional people before Pride weekend started in mid-August. Nancy Nydam, a DPH spokesperson, said the department has been working with Pride organizers to have vans set up outside various nightclubs and the Pure Heat Community Festival. 

Earlier this week, Nickolaus Ortiz attended a monkeypox town hall event presented by Atlanta Black Pride Weekend in partnership with biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. The program at the Georgia Freight Depot — “Responding to the Monkeypox Outbreak Together” — featured panelists discussing community efforts to address the outbreak locally.

Ortiz, a local professor, said going into Pride weekend he’s had mixed feelings about what he sees as the federal government being slow to respond. “I’m hopeful for the local response. Just because I see some vaccines being rolled out in certain districts, certain nonprofit organizations are able to do it,” he said.  

Thomas says he is looking forward to getting his second shot next week. He says the Pride attendees should continue to educate their friends and family on the current outbreak as it pertains to the LGBTQ community. 

“I feel like the world has put such a bad light on our community and so that’s why we need to become more aware and health conscious about these things,” he said. “It’s just an extra thing that our community has to worry about besides COVID and HIV. So it’s definitely something that we are conscious of.”