By Joe Hollendoner (Published in Fall/Winner 2022 Issue of Center’s Vanguard Magazine)
I began my tenure as CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center in July, just as our community began to face yet another public health crisis: human monkeypox.
The first case of monkeypox was diagnosed in the United States in May, and within a few weeks, cases were being identified in major cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles. By July, it was clear that—just like with HIV/AIDS—gay and bi men were being disproportionately affected, and our community would once again need to come together to protect ourselves.
The federal government took no immediate action to stop human monkeypox, despite being able to predict that an outbreak in the U.S. was likely. Worse, effective vaccines and treatments existed but were not being made available. Medical providers refused care to their patients, with some citing lack of familiarity with the virus and others outright discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. Media reports not only stigmatized, but also dehumanized gay men by spreading misinformation about who was at risk for infection. Conservative elected officials furthered their attacks on our community by calling gay men “unclean,” “diseased,” or somehow “deserving” of this virus.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center stepped into the leadership void created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies, taking immediate action and doing what we do best: caring and advocating for our community. Our healthcare professionals diagnosed and treated human monkeypox cases and administered vaccines at our sites throughout Los Angeles. Our policy team demanded that state and federal law and policymakers provide resources to stop the outbreak. And we launched community outreach programs and websites to provide medically accurate and sex-positive education about human monkeypox prevention.
Make no mistake about it: the current decline of monkeypox cases in Los Angeles County is a direct result of the Center’s efforts. If the Center hadn’t stepped in and stepped up, I have no doubt that cases would still be on the incline today.
All too often in public health, we use data to measure our success. Interpreting data is critical to crafting a successful response, but it only tells one part of the story. We must never forget the individuals represented in the numbers. I can assure you that while our researchers kept a careful eye on the trends we were seeing in our clinics, our providers never lost sight of the human impact of this crisis.
Every time I visited one of the Center’s human monkeypox vaccination clinics to thank our hard-working staff, a patient would stop me and share their story. While the specifics of each story differed, what remained consistent was how they came to the Center with fear or confusion, but left our doors feeling empowered and informed. I will never forget the relief I saw in these patients’ eyes and the deep gratitude I could hear in their voices.
Our work to educate, vaccinate, and advocate in response to human monkeypox has been invaluable. Unfortunately, we have not received a single dollar from the federal, state, or county governments to fund these efforts. I am optimistic that this will soon change, but had the Center not used funds provided by our individual donors to support our actions, I fear we would still be contending with another epidemic that disproportionately affects our community. If you’re reading this, the chances are good that it was your donation that allowed the Center to act when our community needed us most. I continue to be inspired by the way that queer and trans people show up for one another. I’m even coming to realize that the LGBTQ+ community in Los Angeles shows up like nobody else in the movement.
To have led the Center through this particular crisis reminded me of two things. The first is that, despite decades of progress, our community still needs to come together to fight and advocate for ourselves. Whether it’s public health emergencies or Supreme Court atrocities, we must remember that our collective resilience makes us unstoppable. The second is that there is no organization better equipped to mobilize our community for the many fights ahead than the Los Angeles LGBT Center. We have over five decades of experience defending and advancing the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and that experience will be leveraged to its fullest in response to whatever is on the horizon.
Expanding our community’s fight for equality—even just sustaining our hard-fought gains—is a big task, I know. But I can promise you this: You will never have to do it alone. In the face of any political or public health threat to our community, you can depend on your Center to be there, championing you and your right to exist as a healthy, equal, and complete member of society.