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Queer bars are stepping up in the fight against monkeypox


Today monkeypox is spreading primarily through close physical contact, mostly during sex. So far, the CDC says the vast majority of cases in the U.S. are among gay and bisexual men. Owners of queer bars feel uniquely positioned to share information about the virus without adding to rising stigma. Camille Petersen has more on how gay bars are using their social media and physical spaces to fight monkeypox.

CAMILLE PETERSEN, BYLINE: When Eric Sosa and Michael Zuco, the owners of Brooklyn queer bars Good Judy and C'mon Everybody, first heard about monkeypox, they had a familiar feeling.

MICHAEL ZUCO: Here we go again. You know, what's this going to be like? There's some burnout for sure.

PETERSEN: Another virus to deal with. But Sosa says as friends and friends of friends got monkeypox, he and Zuco realized their community was especially at risk. So they started looking for information to share.

ERIC SOSA: A lot of information wasn't being given from, you know, the top, so people were really, you know, putting whatever information they had out in the social media sphere.

PETERSEN: They went to town halls, too, and posted what they learned on their bar's social media - vaccine updates and key city contacts to share concerns with among memes, promos for drag shows and drink specials. Zuco says he was a little nervous at first about the bar talking so much about another virus.

ZUCO: Oh, are people going to just full-stop stop going out because they're worried about their health? But I think talking about it and providing information is, like, a really great way to quell fear.

PETERSEN: Sosa and Zuco wanted to get even more involved in fighting monkeypox. They asked if any of their followers had connections to the city's Department of Health. Sosa says eventually...

SOSA: A woman from the DoH reached out to us with this pilot program.

PETERSEN: Health workers come to the bar to schedule customers for vaccine appointments. Zuco says he struggled to get an appointment online and heard from others who did, too.

ZUCO: I think for me, I'm actually also a registered nurse, so for me, it was really gratifying to see one of our bars being used in, like, a public health capacity.

PETERSEN: Good Judy bartender Julian Diaz says he feels proud to work at a place taking action against monkeypox.

JULIAN DIAZ: I definitely feel like we've done really well and played our part in our - in the community.

PETERSEN: In Chicago, bar owner Mark Liberson has been monitoring monkeypox so closely, his employees see him as a go-to resource on the virus.

MARK LIBERSON: I'm inherently a Jewish mother. And I think that I just naturally feel a need to protect people. And so I will jump in and, I guess, play mother and make calls, try to figure out how to get people scheduled in for appointments.

PETERSEN: Liberson worked with the city's health department to create posters and a video about monkeypox. The weekend of an LGBTQ festival, he showed the video at one of his nightclubs, Hydrate.

LIBERSON: We have a gigantic dance area, and people take to the streets. And we had, you know, clear video messaging going on every half an hour.

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

LIBERSON: In our community, we have to recognize that there are people who don't care about us. There are people who actually are antagonistic toward us. I think that it's also really important, though, that we are taking care of our own just as we did back then.

PETERSEN: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberson asked an auto shop near one of his bars to help him host a large-scale vaccination clinic. He hopes something like that - getting hundreds vaccinated at a single location every day - will be possible soon for monkeypox. For NPR News, I'm Camille Petersen in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF 9TH WONDER'S "SIDE BY CLACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camille Peterson