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Canceled Due to Monkeypox: How LGBTQ+ Events in Michigan Are Responding to the Outbreak

Local doctor says people can safely attend large gatherings with precautions in mind

By |2022-08-30T07:35:31-04:00August 30th, 2022|Michigan, News|

With monkeypox cases still on the rise in southeast Michigan, it might be time to reevaluate your approach to basically anything involving skin-to-skin contact. While the virus is not typically fatal, judging by first-hand accounts, it’s certainly unpleasant (and unsightly) — often, it’s downright painful. 

Some Michigan establishments and venues frequented by men who have sex with men (MSM) are taking steps to do their part in slowing the spread of monkeypox, and there’s a good chance more will follow as the CDC shapes its guidance on prevention and safety. 

Local physician Dr. Paul Benson, founder of Be Well Medical Center in Berkley, promotes a cautious response toward social events during the outbreak. “Individuals can safely attend large gatherings, but should be smart about it,” he told Pride Source. “The risk of contracting monkeypox through the air is not that great — however, if you are in someone’s face, that would increase your chances.”

Dr. Benson said touching should be avoided in crowds, especially in very close quarters, such as mosh pits. 

Some Michigan venues are taking a proactively cautious approach, while others are monitoring the situation but haven’t changed their upcoming schedules. 

Motorball has pushed back the Detroit dance party events, geared toward the LGBTQ+ community, from Sept. 15-18 to June 2-4, 2023, to coincide with Ferndale Pride. Recently, an announcement was posted to the Motorball site, with organizers writing, “Until more health promotion and vaccination work can be done, and until more research on transmissibility is available, we believe the prudent course of action is to postpone the annual Motorball event out of an abundance of caution.” 

Local jack off group Motor City Jacks, which touts itself as “Detroit’s premier men’s masturbation club,” has paused its events in line with the CDC guidelines. “We did not want to potentially contribute to the spread,” an organizer who did not give their name told Pride Source by email. “We are hopeful by next month, enough of our members have been vaccinated and the virus plateaus locally.” A message that went out to members said, in part, “We believe it is in our best interest to limit your potential exposure especially because communities we are a part of seem to be disproportionately impacted at this time.” 

Pride Source contacted Diplomat Health Club, the men’s gay sauna and bathhouse in Grand Rapids. The venue is currently working with the Kent County Health Department.

The Schvitz, a historic health club and bathhouse in Detroit; Body Zone, a bathhouse and gay sauna in Highland Park, and Club Tabu, a men’s alternative lounge in Lansing and Alpena, did not respond to inquiries from Pride Source by press time.

Meanwhile, the CDC outlines specific guidelines for monkeypox prevention, including advice on social gatherings and specific sexual activities. 

When deciding whether to attend raves, parties, clubs and festivals, the agency recommends seeking out information from trusted sources like the local health department. “Consider how much close, personal, skin-to-skin contact is likely to occur at the event,” the website reads. “If you feel sick or have a rash, do not attend any gathering, and see a healthcare provider.” 

Additional CDC guidelines related to social activities includes:

  • Festivals, events and concerts where attendees are fully clothed and unlikely to share skin-to-skin contact are safer. However, attendees should be mindful of activities (like kissing) that might spread monkeypox.
  • A rave, party or club where there is minimal clothing and where there is direct, personal, often skin-to-skin contact has some risk. Avoid any rash you see on others and consider minimizing skin-to-skin contact.
  • Enclosed spaces, such as back rooms, saunas, sex clubs, or private and public sex parties where intimate, often anonymous sexual contact with multiple partners occurs, may have a higher likelihood of spreading monkeypox.

Dr. Benson does not feel it is necessary to cancel events completely, but he said those who are feeling sick or have unexplained skin rashes should stay home. “From my observations, of the cases I have seen in my office, the transmission occurred after the event, through sexual activity,” he said.  

Dr. Benson also recommends that patients use condoms for eight weeks after monkeypox lesions have resolved on infected people. While this guideline does not appear in the official CDC recommendations, he said he has observed cases of rectal monkeypox likely transmitted from someone who recently recovered from the virus. “Monkeypox virus has been observed in semen up to two months after the infection cleared,” he explained. “There is some debate that it is a dead virus and may not be capable of transmission — I don’t agree.”

Dr. Benson also stresses that monkeypox is not a “gay disease.” As he reiterated, “Anyone can catch monkeypox.” 

About the Author:

Sarah Bricker Hunt, a proud Eastern Michigan University alum, is a freelance writer and editor who dabbles in a little of everything.