In the heart of gay Chicago, worry that monkeypox is creeping ‘closer’

As the Northalsted neighborhood prepped for Market Days, there was frustration over the public health response and concern about rehashing stigma experienced during the AIDS crisis.

Boystown interview collage
Lou Foglia / WBEZ
Boystown interview collage
Lou Foglia / WBEZ

In the heart of gay Chicago, worry that monkeypox is creeping ‘closer’

As the Northalsted neighborhood prepped for Market Days, there was frustration over the public health response and concern about rehashing stigma experienced during the AIDS crisis.

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In and around Northalsted this week, summer was in full swing with an added sense of caution.

As the heart of gay Chicago prepped for Market Days – one of the marquee events of summer festival season – questions swirled about monkeypox transmission, vaccination, and the city’s public health response. Here you can find out what we know so far about monkeypox cases in Chicago, who is eligible for a vaccine and how to get tested.

Most cases had been reported in men who have had sex with other men, but in bars, businesses, and even the bowling alley, people interviewed by WBEZ wondered about whether a line had been crossed between messaging and marginalization.

Interviews also revealed worry ahead of the Midwest’s largest festival, confusion around how and where to access vaccines and an eagerness from the community to reject stigma and protect itself from the virus. Here’s what we learned.


Kalani Han, 31
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Kalani Han, 31

Kathy Osterman Beach was closed for the day, but Albany Park resident Kalani Han lingered with a friend near the shoreline of Lake Michigan Saturday night to take photographs together as the sun went down.

Han, a postal worker, said he was able to get the monkeypox vaccine, but has been frustrated by the government’s response to the outbreak that is disproportionally affecting queer men in his community.

“I was able to get vaccinated, but unfortunately where we are with our country, prioritizing health for our citizens is very low on the totem,” Han said. “We put our money towards war and other things that aren’t helping people, here, at home. With the way that COVID was handled with the previous administration, and even with the current administration, I have serious doubts that monkeypox is going to be taken seriously. A lot of people are going to suffer because of it.”


Gabriel Molina, 22
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Gabriel Molina, 22

On a Sunday night in Northalsted, Gabriel Molina was working his first shift as a dancer inside the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge. The Pilsen resident works five nights a week at a members-only club in addition to the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, and he said it has been difficult finding a vaccine amid his busy work schedule.

“I would go to work and by the time I would get to a place that was doing shots the line was really long,” Molina said. “And they were telling me I couldn’t get in and wouldn’t be able to make an appointment.”

Molina hopes he can find a vaccine soon and is being cautious at work and in his social life, he said.

“I’m really aware of how close I am to people,” Molina said. “I try not to do skin to skin contact and am avoiding heavy crowds, but I still work in the service industry and I’m still going to work everyday. It is really scary to think about. I just try to hope for the best because being out of work for a whole month [to quarantine from the virus] would be really terrible.”


Hayden Magri, 31
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Hayden Magri, 31

Inside Northalsted bar Cellblock, Hayden Magri bartends a few nights a week. Through a vaccine distribution at the nearby gay bathhouse Steamworks, Magri and his coworkers received a first round dose of the monkeypox vaccine in early July. Cellblock has also hosted a vaccine event and plans to host another during Market Days, Magri said.

The Lakeview resident said he’s fortunate to have received a vaccine early on, but isn’t worried about catching monkeypox from behind a bar.

“I feel like with gay men there has been so much negative stigma with gay men and sex,” Magri said.

He likened the stigmatization of monkeypox to when the AIDS virus was first portrayed as gay-related in the ’80s and ’90s.

“The gay community is more proactive about making sure they are safe, which isn’t a bad thing,” Magri said. “I think that COVID, and I think with monkeypox, it will be more eye opening to the straight community about getting tested.”


Joshie Sellers, 21
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Joshie Sellers, 21

Uptown resident Joshie Sellers walked to a nearby Northalsted club with friends after work Sunday night. Sellers, a host at D.S. Tequila Company, received a first dose of the vaccine and said he hasn’t changed much about his lifestyle since. He is worried about monkeypox, but also about stigma — and was critical of monkeypox informational posters that hang in the windows of several Northalsted businesses, which feature pictures of gay men amid rainbow colors and QR codes.

“It’s painting this as Black and gay and it feels like it’s very rehashing of old drama from AIDS in the ’80s and how that was painted and portrayed and stigmatized for a long time,” Sellers said. “I think that we need to learn from that experience and move forward.”

Sellers called for an overhaul of vaccination efforts and awareness campaigns within the community. “There’s a lot of critique that needs to be happening,” Sellers said.


Dan Shade, 32
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Dan Shade, 32

Days ahead of Northalsted’s annual Market Days festival, Dan Shade said he was being cautious. Shade plans to attend the street festival, but is avoiding clubs and spaces where sweating and close contact could occur, he said.

Shade, who lives in Uptown, said his main concern was finding a vaccine. “There’s a lot of misinformation right now,” Shade said. “I’ve seen people post things and either the appointments are already booked or the place isn’t actually doing it. It’s just a lot of wild goose chases.”


Lance Randall, 32
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Lance Randall, 32

On a Monday night in Northalsted, Uptown resident Lance Randall was heading home from a work event at a nearby bar. Having completed his first dose of the vaccine, Randall said he felt safer about attending the Market Days festival over the weekend.

Randall said he was frustrated by the message that monkeypox is bound to the gay community.

“This isn’t a political issue, it isn’t a gay-straight thing,” Randall said. “It’s really just about being safe.”

“It’s not just us that are at risk here,” Randall said. “With any disease, really, it’s not just going to affect one community. Maybe some more than others, but it’s still going to affect you too — so get vaccinated and be smart.”


Todd Cornils, 60
Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Todd Cornils, 60

Inside Waveland Bowling Alley in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, Todd Cornils and his Stonewall Bowling League teammates were preparing for the final games of their season.

When a friend of the team contracted monkeypox, Cornils, a Lakeview resident, said the outbreak became a reality.

“It seemed like it crept into our world even closer,” Cornils said. “It makes me a little apprehensive especially with Market Days coming up. It’s sort of strange that there isn’t more of an awareness, because it is going to spread. It is going to be out there more until people start being more cautionary and do the vaccines.”

Lou Foglia is a freelance photojournalist based in Chicago.