Appeals by health officials not to stigmatise gay men over monkeypox ignored by Texas' educator Timothy Farage.

The University of Texas at Dallas has announced that it is investigating complaints that series of tweets posted last month by Farage in the wake of monkeypox infections were homophobic and spread misinformation.

According to The Dallas Observer, Farage, a professor in UTD’s computer science department, prompted a backlash with a string of controversial tweets.

Images via YouTube

In a post about a monkeypox outbreak in New York, he suggested trying to “find a cure for homosexuality.” (Twitter later removed the tweet for violating the site’s rules.) Farage attempted to clarify his position the following day after facing pushback.

I don’t think homosexuality is wrong. I think it is a medical disorder.

Psychology major Chase Mueller, president of Pride at UTD, said he felt “disgust and horror” when he first learned of Farage’s initial tweet.

The idea that a cure for homosexuality is something to be researched … is homophobic. It is proven false. So, the fact that it was being promoted by a professor at the university I attend was something that just hit like a ton of bricks. It was startling.

Mueller said although he never had Farage as a professor, he knows of many LGBTQ+ students who left Farage’s class feeling uncomfortable. Others didn’t want to attend at all.

The UTD Rainbow Coalition, which is composed of several pro-LGBTQ+ campus groups, issued a statement denouncing Farage and demanding university action.

On Farage’s Rate My Professors page, some students said he would often discuss irrelevant topics like gender, sex, time travel, abortion and his doubts about climate change.

Replying to UT Dallas’ The Mercury student paper, Farage said he was “being compassionate” by inquiring about a “cure” to homosexuality. He also claimed to have several gay friends who wished they were straight.

An apologetic Farage said:

A week or so ago, I tweeted about an article dealing with monkeypox. The article said that a common way to transmit this disease was by men having sex with men. My comment about the article was I thought that doctors should try to find a cure for male homosexuality.

I actually thought that this was a compassionate comment because I’ve had a few homosexual friends who wished they were heterosexual. Since then, I’ve received a great deal of negative feedback. And it is clear to me that my comments were offensive and hurtful to many.

I promise you that I had no intention of offending anyone. And I deeply apologize to those who were. Students who have taken courses from me know that I harbor no ill will towards anyone, and especially not because of their sexuality, or race, or country of origin. Please forgive me.

Farage maintains a blog that mainly deals with how to create a society based upon “God’s laws,” and he makes presentations about the scientific evidence for God.

I truly wish to assist in the United States becoming ‘One Nation under God.’

Mueller hopes that the university will fire Farage but said he’ll respect whatever decision the review board makes. He sees the latest incident as part of a broader pattern of negative behavior in Farage’s classroom.

Learning more about Farage’s views, Mueller added, was “incredibly disappointing, especially since UT Dallas prides itself on being one of the best colleges in the country for LGBTQ+ students.”

There is work that needs to be done in making sure that students feel welcome, and UTD needs to show that this kind of hostility should not and will not be tolerated.

‘Morbid interest’ in monkeypox

An African monkeypox sufferer. Image credit: Nigeria Centre for Disease Control

Writing, Andrew Lee, Professor of Public Health at University of Sheffield, noted that the first case of monkeypox in the current outbreak was reported to the World Health Organization on May 7.

The person in question had recently returned to the UK from Nigeria, where they are believed to have contracted the infection. Since then, further cases have been reported in over a dozen countries where the disease is not normally present, including several European countries, Israel, the United States and Canada, as well as Australia.

Spain reported its second monkeypox-related death last Saturday.

Said Lee:

It has attracted a morbid interest from the public and media. Strange new infectious diseases that the public is unfamiliar with, such as monkeypox, can generate a disproportionate degree of fear in the population. In part, this is due to its “exotic” nature, the fear of contagion, and the perception that it is spreading quickly and invisibly in the population.

Stigma and stereotypes

Lee added that many cases, but not all, that were recently reported were in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

This is unfortunate as there is a real danger here of further stigma being generated towards this group. They have suffered tremendously over the years with the stigma attached to infectious disease, most notably with the HIV/Aids pandemic, and there is still a strong undercurrent of homophobia even in countries with strong LGBTQ+ rights. This is despite a lot of effort by the LGBTQ+ community, public education programmes and equal rights legislation to tackle stigmatisation.

He said that there are lessons we need to learn from the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Some of the stigma was driven by deeply held religious and cultural beliefs in society that unfairly equated their sexuality with notions of immorality and negative stereotypes of promiscuity. Gay and bisexual men were blamed as the source and cause of HIV spread, even though it was also spread through other routes such as heterosexual sex, from mother to child, needle-stick injuries and contaminated blood products. The situation was worse for men from an ethnic minority background, where racial prejudices and stereotypes added to the stigma.

This, in turn, had serious consequences for the people affected, especially on their mental and emotional wellbeing. It affected their social and sexual relationships, leading to rejection by their partners and social isolation.

Not about sexuality

Image credit: Nigeria Centre for Disease Control

Lee insisted that the message that monkeypox is not a disease of men who have sex with men should be emphasied.

It is not about sexuality: people tend to be infected through close physical contact and it does not have to be sexual in nature. Infected people will tend to infect people they have close contact with, which is why the risk of spread is high in affected households.

He concluded:

Our best chance of snuffing out this outbreak quickly is through early detection and quarantining people who are infected and protecting their close contacts through vaccination, to break the chains of transmission. As we know all too well from our experience with HIV, stigma will not help.

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