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GLAAD president on fighting monkeypox stigma

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Anyone is susceptible to monkeypox, and the World Health Organization has now deemed the current outbreak a global health emergency. But not everyone is at the same risk. And so far, the current outbreak has predominantly affected men that have sex with other men. That is one reason GLAAD recently partnered with the White House on the federal response to the outbreak. The president and CEO of GLAAD is Sarah Kate Ellis, and she joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SARAH KATE ELLIS: Thank you so much for having me.

SUMMERS: The country's federal public health systems have gotten scathing feedback, frankly, about how they have handled monkeypox. One Washington Post op-ed called it a mess. What is the top priority right now?

ELLIS: The absolute top priority is information, education and getting the vaccines out quickly and equitably. So first and foremost, it's about the education information being sent out to the general public, especially the LGBTQ+ community, as we are indexing higher at this moment in time. It appears that there's about a batch of 800,000 that will be released in the coming weeks. So we're looking forward to that. The issue here is getting them out quickly and safely and to the most at-risk communities. We can and we need to be doing a better job of that.

SUMMERS: GLAAD was formed in response to portrayals of gay people during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Are there lessons learned from that experience that your organization can apply to the current situation and what we're seeing around monkeypox?

ELLIS: Absolutely. There's two really big concerns about stigmatizing. One is it puts a community that is already marginalized, like the LGBTQ+ community, in greater danger of discrimination, hate and violence. No. 2 is it puts an entire disease on one community and doesn't actually let us address the disease moving from one person to another, making it then a worse public health crisis than it needs to be.

SUMMERS: Earlier in the week, I spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who's the White House's chief medical adviser. And I asked him what he believed the federal government could do to combat homophobic stigma surrounding monkeypox. And part of what he told me is that it's important to concentrate on fighting the virus rather than stigmatizing people who have become infected. And he also talked about the need for, as you have, community outreach, easy access to testing and treatment. To your mind, does that go far enough, or is there more that the federal government should do?

ELLIS: I think for us, what we're really trying to help with as much as possible is focusing it in on the distribution of the vaccines because we know they work. That's the piece that I would add to Dr. Fauci's opinions and thoughts on this - is that really getting those vaccines out there quickly and equitably is going to save a lot of spreading from happening.

SUMMERS: Does your organization feel that public health authorities were slow to take this outbreak seriously, to respond to it because it primarily affected men who have sex or intimate contact with other men?

ELLIS: You know, actually, this administration has an LGBTQ health liaison, unlike the former administration, and has been working with us closely from the initial onset of this. So I don't see it being that. What I do see is the federal agencies have to educate doctors, too, to spot the symptoms and to treat the symptoms. If it continues to be stigmatized, doctors and health care professionals will only be using a certain number of filters to identify and diagnose versus viewing the whole of society and identifying it and stopping the spread ultimately.

SUMMERS: Sarah Kate Ellis is the president and CEO of GLAAD. Thank you so much for being here today.

ELLIS: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.