Monkeypox outbreak impacts parties in New York

Pink_and_purple_skyline_(Unsplash)
Some party promoters have cancelled events due to the spread of monkeypox in New York.
Wikimedia Commons/srikanta

When COVID-19 forced many businesses to close in 2020, sex parties were not exempt. Cade, who promotes men’s play parties in two venues in New York City, recalled that some of his customers were in tears at the loss of those events because they had no other space where they could spend time with gay and bisexual or other men who have sex with men.

“We’ve been closed down twice because of COVID,” Cade told Gay City News. Now, he is confronted with monkeypox spreading among men who have sex with men and shut down his remaining July parties on July 14 and may cancel another in early August.

“We’ve been fortunate, we haven’t had any cases,” Cade said. “We’re much more stringent about cleaning.”

Other parties have also closed due to monkeypox. On July 15, promoter Ric Sena cancelled a July 17 dance at Alegria in Brooklyn and refunded the ticket price to everyone who had purchased a ticket, writing, “We take your health, security, and peace of mind very seriously.” The New York Jacks shut down on July 14 with a note to customers saying “Since the spread is in the community of men having sex with men by physical contact we don’t want to be responsible for anyone contracting [monkeypox] at our parties.”

Some other parties, including Jacks of Color and Encore, were forced to close before monkeypox arrived after Paddles, a venue on West 26th Street, reportedly shut down when its landlord told Paddles’ management that construction in the building would displace the club. Gay City News could not find contact information for the club operator and the building management did not respond to a call seeking comment.

As of July 20, the New York City health department reported there were 711 cases with the virus “primarily spreading among social networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM).” On July 15, when the health agency reported 461 cases, 98% of the infections were among men and 2% were among transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. Among the 461 cases, 47% were white, 30% were among Latinos, 17.5 % were among African-Americans, and 6% were among Asians. The ages ranged from 20 to 69 with a median of 35. On July 20, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported there were 2,323 cases with just six states reporting no cases.

One party, the Pines Party, which will take place over three days in The Pines on Fire Island beginning on July 22, will not be shutting down. That annual event raises money for The Pines Foundation and promotes the Pines community. The boards of the foundation and the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association (FIPPOA) share nine board members, though that comparison relies on the foundation’s 2019 Form 990, a document that all non-profits file with the IRS. Over time, the foundation has given over $1.3 million to The Stonewall Foundation. It has also used the proceeds to pay for improvements in the Pines community. Gay City News is a sponsor of the Pines Party.

On July 20, the Pines Party distributed an email that included prevention information and asked anyone who is ill or was “recently exposed or tested positive to Monkeypox or Covid, PLEASE STAY HOME!” The organizers told people who did not want to attend that they could resell their tickets on their ticket vendor’s website and offered refunds to people who “test positive for Monkeypox and/or Covid” and send their “name, proof of positive test results by an authorized testing site and the order number” to the foundation by July 23 at 5:00 pm.

The Suffolk County health department and Northwell Health, which operates a clinic in Cherry Grove, a Fire Island community that is adjacent to the Pines, gave out 600 vaccine doses over four days at locations in the Pines and Cherry Grove in mid-July. They will be distributing an additional 900 doses on July 21, July 22, and July 26.

A person who is knowledgeable about FIPPOA’s response told Gay City News that “People have been lobbying us to cancel.” To date, 2,750 tickets have been sold.

“Our position is this is a dance party,” the person said. “We don’t allow sex at the dance. Any sex that happens in private homes, we can’t control…We’ve gone to great lengths to try and protect and vaccinate people all with the lens of giving the best information to people to allow them to make informed decisions.”

Jason Haas, a longtime LGBTQ activist, has been among those asking the Pines Party to cancel. He has been reaching out to the organizers and recruiting friends and colleagues to also pressure the party via social media and direct contacts.

“This going to be a super spreader event,” Haas said. “There is no doubt about it.”

Haas is motivated by seeing monkeypox and COVID infections in friends. And Haas is concerned that the virus will move outside of the community.

“We need to come to some kind of consensus that includes the greater public,” Haas said. “We can’t just keep the party going. It’s irresponsible, it’s immoral.”

Gay and bisexual men, men who have sex with men, and transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people have been seeking vaccines, but those efforts have been slowed by a limited supply of vaccine and appointments. While public health agencies are supplying prevention advice, there is frustration that the best prevention — a vaccine — is widely unavailable.

The manager of a venue that hosts promoters of sex parties told Gay City News that he would welcome an agency that would distribute vaccines at his business.

“At this point, it would benefit everyone,” the manager said. “It will benefit us as a venue. It would benefit the community and the community is our clientele.”

More from Around NYC