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Gays Over COVID: What I Learned From My COVID-19 Scare and How COVID Shame is Damaging the LGBTQIA+ Community

January 29, 2021

Omaralexis Ochoa

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The online queer community has recently EXPLODED with accusations, and cancel culture surrounding what seems like THOUSANDS of gay men circuit partying during the pandemic in places like Puerto Vallarta and Rio de Janeiro. It’s made for a bit of entertainment but also a ton of public shaming, as pages like @GaysOverCOVID on Instagram have come to the forefront of the conversation by exposing gay men for COVID unsafe behaviors like circuit parties, holiday gatherings, and hookups.

While I do not endorse these behaviors and certainly think each person needs to carefully evaluate the risks, I’ve got to say that I for one, am OVER @GaysOverCOVID. Let’s talk about the difference between SHAME and ACCOUNTABILITY, and how these public shaming pages are doing a lot more harm than good to our community.

How @GaysOverCOVID Was Put on the Map

We’ve all seen the video -- the PV Delice Party Cruise, sinking off the coast of Puerto Vallarta on New Year’s Eve this past holiday, with dozens of gay men in need of rescue. It went viral on all of the gay pages, and even made international headlines. The story was without much sympathy in queer and straight circles alike, as the general consensus was that they got what was coming to them.

After all, it was a maskless circuit party, comprised mostly of international travelers who were coming to a country that is currently being ravaged by COVID-19. On top of all that -- the state of poverty in Mexico already made it so workers have really no choice but to risk their lives and cater to these people who have already disregarded the pandemic. It was incidents like this, as well as the underground circuit party that got busted by police in Rio de Janeiro, that helped put accounts like @GaysOverCOVID on the map.

@GaysOverCOVID Does More Harm Than Good for the LGBTQIA+ Community

@GaysOverCOVID has made a name for itself by exposing gay partygoers for their misbehavior, and circulating content that catches them in the act -- either without masks, or partying it up. They make an attempt at holding these people accountable which is certainly needed, but they do it in a way that ultimately distracts us from the global government failure to control the pandemic, and so damages our community both in its reputation, as well as its physical health.

I recently listened to an incredibly entertaining podcast episode of Daddy Issues with Race Cooper & Matt Fuller titled “Gays over COVID with Boomer Banks.” They did an excellent job explaining how @GaysOverCOVID came into the spotlight, and they served as a big point of inspiration for this episode. I highly recommend that you check them out and take a listen! It’s during this episode that Race and Matt bring up a lot of good points about why @GaysOverCOVID is problematic for our community.

COVID Shame Pages Are a Distraction from the Real Issue: Government Failure

To start, although it may seem enticing, or even feel good to get in on the shaming, it’s really just a distraction from the bigger issue: the COVID-19 crisis is the result of mass government failure across the globe to contain the disease. Individuals are extremely limited in how they can both stop the spread, and worsen it. We can each do our part, as with other things like recycling, pollution, and water conservation, but it’s ultimately up to a much larger government power to truly make an impact.

The fact remains that these circuit muscle-gays didn’t sneak out of the country to go and party. These partyboys were enabled by a system that still encourages international travel. Just look at all of the airlines and vacation destinations touting “COVID-safe” travel measures. Airlines, hotels, and vacation spots likely gave steep discounts to encourage these people to come. Although this doesn’t excuse anyone from still deciding to go, the fact that a Mexican party cruise is still a viable option in terms of tickets, food, lodging, and other logistics during the pandemic goes to show that the barriers attempting to keep the disease at bay are quite low. So long as these remain as options, there will be a market willing to take the risk, as we’ve seen with Puerto Vallarta and Rio de Janeiro.

Shame Pages Like @GaysOverCOVID Damage the Reputation of the Gay Community

Next, queer community already faces an uphill battle when it comes to gaining tolerance, respect, and acceptance from the straight world. Although we love to hate the popper-fueled circuit queens of the gay male community, elevating the antics of shame pages like these to the global stage paints a validatingly bad portrait of our community to people who are already looking to discredit us.

Race and Matt put it best during their talk on Daddy Issues when they say “America is always looking for a reason to put us back in the closet.” They raise the point that, for many straight people, we are a monolith. The actions of one gay person are represenative of all gay people to someone who doesn’t want to want to accept us. They look to things like @GaysOverCOVID as validation for why they reject our community. A person who already disapproves of queerness won’t care to make a distinction between “those” gay people and “these” gay people -- to a bigot, we are all sex-addicted partiers with no respect for others.

Shame in the LGBT+ Community Will Ultimately Damage Our Physical Health

More so, the fact that @GaysOverCOVID as a concept even creates an “us” versus “them” dichotomy within our community is troublesome. When we use shame as a device to change the behaviors of others -- such as by “cancelling” them and “putting them on blast,” -- we inadvertently create strict rules of moral superiority that are difficult to uphold. This has the effect of damaging how we communicate with each other in the community, erodes trust, and in effect, erodes our physical health during this crisis.

Race and Matt touch upon this briefly during their conversation with Boomer Banks when they mention this tweet by Julia Marcus -- an infectious disease epidemiologist, and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. She writes:

Marcus sums it up perfectly -- although we love to hate those circuit queens who are irresponsibly partying it up on an international getaway, normalizing cancel culture and public shaming around it will ultimately hurt us in more tangible ways. Specifically, by creating a culture of fear in our queer community that makes us less willing to disclose our status, talk about symptoms, or admit to being exposed; lest we risk backlash from others.

What I Learned From My Own COVID-19 Scare

One example from my life was when I had my own COVID exposure scare. My boyfriend tested positive for COVID-19 the day after he and I were in close contact. Immediately after finding this out, we reached out to others we knew we had been in contact with recently, and let them know about the test. This was meanwhile the both of us had gotten tested and re-tested just to confirm that I had not contracted it, as well as to confirm if his results were accurate. We quarantined while we waited for the results, and ultimately found that my test was negative, and the two following tests he took were also negative.

This suggests that the original test was inaccurate and gave him a false-positive. While this is extremely rare, we took the necessary precautions to inform our immediate contacts about the situation. Everything turned out fine, and no one I know personally has contracted COVID-19 as of yet. However, this situation revealed to me personally how quickly shame and a culture of fear surrounding COVID-19 can easily result in the disease’s spread by making it undesirable to talk about.

When I informed my immediate contacts and urged them to quarantine and also get tested, some people responded quite negatively. There was a lot of blame -- one or two people on the other end insisting that this was my fault; that I must have been irresponsible, or gotten exposed while doing something I shouldn’t have, or seeing someone they didn’t approve of. It got to be a bit messy before finally learning it was a false-alarm. But the impact it made on me was definite -- my boyfriend and I willingly took on the frustrations and fears of our immediate contacts in order to keep them safe. To be honest, it sucked and I felt like a villain, and even for a moment thought that maybe I shouldn’t have said anything until I learned more information. But this is the exact mentality that is stoked by a culture of fear which results in people not getting tested quickly enough, or quarantining long enough.

Queers Must Look Out for Each Other in this time of Crisis

As we continue to meme, expose, and cancel those misbehaving in the pandemic, we stoke a culture of fear among the rest of the community -- among those not wanting to be “that guy” to give somebody else COVID. However, with an invisible enemy like this virus which doesn’t seem to have a rhyme or reason around who it infects, even those who do everything “right” can end up biting their tongues and costing everyone valuable time to stop the spread. The fear of social repercussion for disclosing your status or a possible exposure has no place in our playbook to stop the spread in our community. Shame functions as a weapon that we use on ourselves. It harkens back to the AIDS crisis; a time when talking about HIV and AIDS was taboo -- a factor that only increased its spread and decimated the queer world.

We must continue to express solidarity and understanding with each other in the queer community. This pandemic has hit our community much harder than most, and squabbling to “cancel” each other is a waste of our time. We must channel and direct our collective energy into affecting change, whether it’s by pressuring our local and state government leaders to take harder, more science-based stances against the pandemic, or by breaking down the walls we’ve built between “us” and “them” and resuming an open and honest conversation about the disease, without fear or shame.

Omaralexis Ochoa

Data analyst, podcaster, pasta-lover... I'm many things, but above all, I'm a creator. I created The Gay Pro because I love sharing stories of queer success, with the intention of empowering and inspiring other queer leaders.