October 11 marks National Coming Out Day (NCOD) in the U.S., a time where we celebrate and uplift those who have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. NCOD is also an opportunity for us as communicators to explore how we engage and reach the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly when it comes to issues related to their health.
This year, NCOD comes just two months after the Biden Administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency, a health challenge which has disproportionately impacted gay and bisexual men. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between May 17 and July 22, 94 percent of reported monkeypox cases occurred in men who had “male-to-male sexual or close intimate contact during the three weeks before symptom onset.[i]”
As the public health response to monkeypox continues, and in preparation for potential future public health outbreaks or needs to reach the LGBTQIA+ community, health communicators should keep the following in mind.
1. Deliver Simple and Actionable Messages
Few things can drive as much fear and anxiety as an unfamiliar infectious disease. This, coupled with rampant misinformation, makes it especially important for health communicators to craft simple, accurate messages that explain the risk and steps people can take to help protect themselves. For example, we’ve seen during the monkeypox outbreak that providing actionable information on protective measures, such as vaccination and potential behavior changes, appears to have been important in preventing new infections and blunting severity of illness among those infected.
2. Partner with Advocacy and Community Leaders
Engaging LGBTQIA+ advocacy partners and leaders, as the Biden Administration did when tapping Dr. Demetre Daskalakis as Deputy Coordinator for the monkeypox response, helps enable culturally relevant messaging and provide an organic, credible avenue for amplifying information about risk, prevention and treatment. Putting credible voices out front is an important a part of any public health response.
3. Reach LGBTQIA+ People Where They Are
Outreach through traditional social platforms, like Instagram and Twitter, can be effective. But it’s important to also consider leveraging digital platforms that are built specifically with LGBTQIA+ people in mind, such as Grindr, HER, SCRUFF and Taimi, to reach those most at risk quickly and directly. Additionally, partnering with local businesses and establishments geared toward the community is a tried-and-true way of sharing health messaging and directly connecting individuals at risk with health services.
4. Be Transparent About What We Don't Know
It’s important to make clear to those at risk that our understanding of prevention and treatment options may change as our understanding of the disease or illness evolves. As seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding of new and less studied diseases inevitably will shift over time, which could lead to changes in public health guidance. These changes can create confusion and may be viewed as a reason to distrust public health officials. Health communicators must proactively address these concerns by explaining why guidance updates were made and clarify that current recommendations are based on the best information available to date and may change again as we learn more.