Letter to Governor & MDH Commissioner: MPX in MN
Governor Walz and Commissioner Malcolm,
As organizations serving the LGBTQ+ community we are reaching out to express our deep concerns regarding the need for continued action and engagement around the spread of the monkeypox virus in Minnesota. This virus poses a serious risk for both the communities we serve and the state at large. We are pleased to see some important initial efforts from State partners – including distribution of initial vaccine allocations – and urge you to continue to work closely with community-based organizations and ensure that we have the resources and coordination to address this virus effectively.
Our community takes seriously the need for comprehensive and effective responses to public health concerns, and we recognize that this outbreak arrives at a time when our healthcare providers and public health systems are facing ongoing strain from the COVID-19 pandemic. While we anticipate that the President’s declaration of a national public health emergency in response to the spread of monkeypox will help to make available important resources, we are looking to you to take action now.
Most immediately we call on MDH and our state’s leadership to enhance work being done around communications, community engagement, and information sharing about the virus. We appreciate efforts that have been made, but call on the state to step up these efforts in the coming weeks to increase public awareness. Knowing that much of the early spread of this virus has been within networks of men who have sex with men, we urge public health officials to partner more closely with community-based organizations like ours to craft and share responsive messaging, to hold informational sessions that meet community where they are, and ensure that people have a clear understanding of when and where to seek care. Our organizations are working thoughtfully on messaging that emphasizes awareness and harm reduction practices, and we hope that greater engagement from the State can help bolster these important messages and help mitigate the emergent risk of this virus.
It is also critical that the state make every effort to make testing and contact tracing easy to access. While vaccine availability is limited, testing and contact tracing are two effective and important tools for slowing spread of the virus. We encourage the State to continue to build out a network of accessible testing locations, ensure that the public has a clear understanding of how, where and when they should seek testing, and understand the contact tracing process so they can help support this critical effort. We look forward to hearing more about how our organizations can be active partners in providing or sharing information about these services, including with community-based testing.
As we have seen in other public health emergencies that quickly grow, it is imperative that accurate sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) information of those diagnosed with MPX is collected and reported. For example, we are deeply concerned with reports from MDH staff that sex-assigned at birth is being used to categorize MPX cases, an act which serves to ignore and erase the impact of this virus on transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer people. We know that HIV disproportionately affects gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, especially BIPOC people. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that HIV also disproportionately affects transgender people, especially transgender women. Classifying people with MPX based on sex assigned at birth is unacceptable.
Finally, we are concerned about growing rhetoric around this virus that seeks to stigmatize the LGBTQ+ community. As with the abhorrent, racist attacks made on AAPI communities through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and experiences our communities have had through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we know the impact this rhetoric can have – from creating false narratives about how a virus spreads and who might be at risk, to leading to direct acts of discrimination and violence against individuals and communities. We urge State leadership to be vigilant about public health messaging – its own and that of others – and work to counter this dangerous rhetoric to ensure the safety and well-being of all Minnesotans.
We have the opportunity to get this right and minimize this outbreak’s harm to Minnesotans. It will take consistent, open, honest dialogue about how to effectively communicate to and about those most at risk; a dynamic system for testing and contact tracing directly involving community-based organizations; and accessible, relevant, and fact-based educational efforts.
As the State continues to address this virus we ask for your support and encourage a strong partnership with us to help ensure Minnesotans remain healthy.
Kat Rohn, Executive Director – OutFront Minnesota
Jeremy Hanson Willis, CEO – Rainbow Health
Phoebe Trepp, Executive Director – Clare Housing
Valerie RR Crutcher, Executive Director – Youth and AIDS Projects
Annie Van Avery, Executive Director – Family Tree Clinic