San Francisco fetish festival presses ahead amid anxiety, uncertainty over monkeypox

Amid a burgeoning monkeypox outbreak that has so far disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men, Bay Area public health officials and organizers of one of the region’s most beloved LGBTQ events are walking a difficult line between preventing the spread of the virus, while fighting the stigma of the virus as a disease limited to the LGBTQ community.

Despite San Francisco officials’ declaration of a public health emergency over the monkeypox virus, organizers of Dore Alley — a live-out-loud leather and fetish festival that’s been a favorite among LGBTQ communities in the Bay Area since the 1980s — said Friday they intend to hold the festival this weekend.

The San Francisco event, which is expected to draw 5,000 people, comes amid deep anxieties across the LGBTQ community over the outbreak, which has proliferated amid a shortage of vaccines. Confronting a disease that has primarily affected men who have sex with men, many in the LGBTQ community fear a replay of the failures of the AIDS/HIV crisis. The confluence of issues has raised difficult questions for Dore Alley organizers, public health officials and LGBTQ advocates, even as they press ahead with the festival.

“If people are not educated and they don’t know the risk, of course, it’s a very, very high risk possibility to be a spreader,” said Joe Hawkins, director of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center.

But his organization has also made a point not to dissuade people from attending the party, Hawkins said.

“You can tell people ‘Do not do this,’ and I just think that here in this country, people have a problem with that,” he said.

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