Attackers mentioning monkeypox hurl slurs and beat gay couple, DC police say

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An attack on a gay couple in Washington, D.C. is being investigated as a possible hate crime, police said.

The couple was walking in the city’s Shaw neighborhood around 5:40 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7 when they were approached by the suspects who reportedly called the pair “monkeypox” homophobic slur, according to a Metropolitan Police Department report. The assailants then punched the victims several times.

After the attack, the couple spent six hours in the emergency room, and one of the men had to get stitches in his lip, Metro Weekly reported.

The couple identified their attackers to Metro Weekly as a group of teenagers.

“I mainly feel shock that this could happen in D.C. in broad daylight, only three or four blocks from U Street, walking from a gay bar to public transit,” one of the victims said.

Police say the attackers were last seen walking northbound on 7th Street. The case is still under investigation and is being considered as a potentially motivated by hate and bias.

Monkeypox cases on the rise

The attack comes amid a rise in disinformation and stereotypes surrounding monkeypox and the gay community.

The United States declared monkeypox a public health emergency Aug. 4, following behind the World Health Organization’s July 23 announcement that it is considering the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As of Aug. 9, the United States had reported 8,934 cases of monkeypox.

The virus is spread through “close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact,” according to the CDC.

It is spreading rapidly among men who have sex with men, a group that includes people who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender and nonbinary, according to the WHO.

The WHO says that while “98% of cases so far are among men who have sex with men, anyone exposed can get monkeypox.”

To prevent further spread of the virus, officials have suggested that men who have sex with men take greater precaution when engaging in intimate behaviors.

“This includes, for the moment, reducing your number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up, if needed,” Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a July 27 news conference. “The focus for all countries must be engaging and empowering communities of men who have sex with men to reduce the risk of infection and onward transmission.”

A mounting issue

Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, and it does not impact any exclusive group of individuals, the CDC says. However, some, including politicians and other public officials, have contributed to a false narrative that the virus is exclusively spread by members of the LGBTQ community.

This narrative has led to an increase in hateful stereotypes against gay individuals and communities across the country.

In one instance last month, a senior computer science graduate adviser and lecturer at the University of Texas in Dallas tweeted a homophobic monkeypox tweet, eliciting blowback from students, The Mercury reported.

“Can we at least try to find a cure for homosexuality, especially among men?” the tweet reads.

Other public figures, including Congress members, have also shared homophobic and inaccurate tweets about the disease.

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