Some bars play a major role in the fight against monkeypox in the LGBTQ community

NEW YORK — When Eric Sosa and Michael Zuco, owners of queer Brooklyn bars Good Judy and C’Mon Everybody, first heard about monkey pox, they had a familiar feeling.

“Here we go again,” Sosa said.

They were frustrated to hear about another one viruses to fight. But when people they knew and friends of friends contracted monkeypox, they realized their community was at particular risk.

“How do we help our community members? asked Sosa.

Monkeypox is mainly spread through close physical contact, primarily during sex. So far, according to the CDC, the vast majority of cases in the United States have involved gay and bisexual men.

Queer bar owners, who serve this community, feel uniquely positioned to share information about the virus – without adding to the growing stigma of LGBTQ people.

For Sosa and Zuco, the first step was to sift through social media for accurate information about monkeypox. They also started going to town halls and posting what they learned on social media from their bars – updates on vaccines and key contacts in town to share their concerns – among memes, promotions for drag shows and drink specials.

Zuco said he was a little nervous at first that the bar was making so many public health messages.

“Are people going to shut down completely, stop going out? Because they’re worried about their health? But I think talking about it and providing information is a really good way to ease the fear,” he said. Zuco said.

Sosa and Zuco wanted to get even more involved in the fight against monkeypox. They asked if any of their social media followers had ties to the city’s Department of Health (DOH). Eventually, someone from DOH contacted a pilot program.

The program sends health workers to community spaces, like bars, and schedules clients for otherwise hard-to-find vaccination appointments. C’Mon Everybody was the only location in Brooklyn chosen for the program’s first round.

“I’m actually a registered nurse as well,” Zuco said. So for me, it was really gratifying to see one of our bars being used as a public health capability.”

Good Judy bartender Julian Diaz said his employer’s proactive approach to monkeypox means he knew how to get a vaccine appointment and protect himself. He feels proud to work in a place that fights monkeypox.

“I really feel like we did really well. And played our part in the community,” Diaz said.

/ Camille Peterson for NPR

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Camille Peterson for NPR

Julian Diaz, bartender at Good Judy in Brooklyn, New York.

In Chicago, bar owner Mark Liberson said he monitors monkeypox so closely that his employees also consider him a go-to resource on the virus.

“I’m inherently a Jewish mother. And so I’m going to step in, make calls, try to figure out how to bring people in for dates,” he said.

Liberson worked with the city’s health department to create monkeypox posters and a video. On the weekend of an LGBTQ festival, Market Days, he showed the video at one of his nightclubs, Hydrate.

He also asked other bars to share the resources. Liberson remembers how the AIDS crisis was handled and says he has a responsibility to protect his community.

“In our community, we have to recognize that there are people who don’t care about us. There are people who are actually hostile towards us. It’s really important that we take care of our own, like we were doing at the time,” Liberson said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberson asked an auto shop near one of his bars to help organize a full-scale vaccination clinic. He said he was hoping for something like this – to get hundreds vaccinated at one place each day—will soon be possible for monkeypox.

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