Suffolk Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott discussed the current surge in monkeypox cases with community residents Monday at a forum held at the LGBT Network in Hauppauge.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

LGBT Network president David Kilmnick on Monday announced the formation of a "Monkeypox Community Action Team" to engage with political leaders and other Long Islanders to limit the spread of the highly contagious virus that is heavily impacting the gay community.

"We now know how this disease is spreading. That it's impacting us right now." Kilmnick said during a community forum at the network's offices in Hauppauge that featured Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott.

The action team "is made up of our community on Long Island," Kilmnick said. "And that action team will do some of what we’re doing today ... We’re going to take ownership in making sure our community gets the information, gets the resources and gets the support that we need."

Kilmnick said local leaders should determine the locations for distribution of monkeypox vaccine, not state officials in Albany.

"We heard that people say we need the vaccine here at the center," Kilmnick said. "We need to create safer spaces and community spaces to be able to deal with the disease and get out ahead of it." 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5,811 monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States.

In New York State, 98% of residents, excluding New York City, who have contracted monkeypox are men. The sexual orientation of those with the virus, as reported by the state: 74% are lesbian or gay, 15% bisexual and 8% whose sexual orientation is unknown.

"We didn’t get our first case until the end of June, around the 1st of July. Suffolk County — we’ve had 19 confirmed cases so far," Pigott said. By Monday afternoon, the state Health Department published updated figures showing there were 22 confirmed cases in Suffolk, 10 in Nassau County and 1,472 in New York City.

Kilmnick said he disagreed with those who fear that focusing on the virus' impact on the gay community would stigmatize them.

"And you know why? Because it's impacting us right now," he said. "And if we don't get out there and say 'this is impacting us, this is impacting our community,' the resources are not going to come to our community."

During the conversation, which included questions and comments from an audience of about 35 members of the network's "senior program" of older members of the LGBT community, some mentioned the early days of the AIDS epidemic decades ago when, many said, gays were stigmatized as the disease ravaged their community. 

While monkeypox may be most prevalent in the gay community now — Pigott told the crowd that 98% to 99% of the cases were occurring among "cisgender gay and bisexual men" — Kilmnick said adamantly, "There's nothing shameful about it."

The 90-minute forum included frank discussion about how monkeypox is contracted — skin to skin contact — and its symptoms, such as painful lesions that Pigott said can occur, among other places, on the genitals, anus and mouth. He said the majority of those who have contracted it have been in their 20s and 30s.

"Just because you’re in this category of men who have sex with men, I’m talking to an older group here ... if you’ve had your stable relationship, your husband or your male partner, you’ve been together for a while, you’re not stepping out on each other, there’s no risk," Pigott told audience members. "You’re not someone who has to worry about contracting monkeypox." 

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