(NewsNation) — A gay couple in Washington, D.C., says they were attacked and beaten by a group of teenagers on the street, who were hurling slurs at them and accusing them of starting the monkeypox outbreak.
The couple, who chose to go by their first names only due to safety concerns, said one of the teens followed them down the sidewalk and physically assaulted one of them to the point they needed medical attention, which included stitches.
“Emotionally, I’d say we’re pretty shaken up,” one of the men, Antonio, said.
“I think it’s going to take awhile to process how to feel about stuff and feel safe walking down the street again,” the other man, Robert, said.
Monkeypox has been spreading mostly through the gay community nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, creating a stigma around the disease.
Police are investigating the crime as a possible bias or hate crime, as the incident allegedly began with an accusation from the teens that Robert and Antonio could have monkeypox.
“They may have some issues with their own self and I hope they get the help they need,” Robert said. “If they’re attacking friendly people in the street, I don’t think they’re in the best spot mentally.”
Some are likening the stigma surrounding gay men and monkeypox to the stigma that grew around Asian people during the onset of the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China.
Nearly 11,500 instances of anti-Asian behavior have been reported since 2020, according to Stop Asian-American Pacific Islander Hate.
Brian Levin, the director for the Center of the Study of Hate and Extremism, said hate crimes against gay people are up in some major cities across the U.S. since last year, but hopes the stigma around gay people and monkeypox does not devolve into the one the U.S. saw with Asians and COVID-19.
“It could devolve, except monkeypox is not out there as broadly as COVID was, affecting a wider swath of the population,” Levin said.