John Oliver eviscerates Marjorie Taylor Greene over monkeypox ‘dog-whistle bigotry’

John Oliver wears a blue shirt, striped tie and dark suit jacket on the set of HBO Max's Last Week Tonight. There is an image of Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene in the corner. Greene is wearing a white top as she stands in front of a US flag

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver slammed Marjorie Taylor Greene for using “obvious dog-whistle bigotry” in spreading misinformation about monkeypox.

Oliver addressed the increasing numbers of monkeypox cases in the US on Sunday’s (7 August) episode on HBO Max. The comedian shared his frustration about “spreading misinformation” on the virus.

He then called out one of the biggest offenders in this spread of misinformation and stigmatisation of marginalised groups: Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. 

Greene, infamously anti-LGBTQ+, falsely described monkeypox as “basically a sexually transmitted disease” and disgustingly said people should “laugh” at the outbreak. She also tweeted a false claim that monkeypox is an STI to link monkeypox and child sexual abuse. 

Oliver explained how Greene’s claims were “obviously ridiculous” as she wouldn’t be in office “if the way to get rid of something awful was for people to laugh at it and mock it”. 

“Greene also tweeted, ‘If monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it,’ in an act of obvious dog-whistle bigotry, suggesting gay people are a danger to children, when what’s clearly an actual danger to children is the QAnon congresswoman who once tweeted, ‘The kids at Uvalde needed JR-15s,’” Oliver said.

John Oliver wears a blue shirt, striped tie and dark suit jacket on the set of HBO Max's Last Week Tonight. There is an image of Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene in the corner wearing a dark top as she speaks to someone off-camera

John Oliver says Marjorie Taylor Greene’s suggestion ‘gay people are a danger to children’ in response to the monkeypox outbreak is ‘obvious dog-whistle bigotry’. (HBO Max)

Oliver admitted there is a “temptation” to push back at such homophobia by explaining that anyone can get monkeypox. He said it was important to acknowledge that “right now certain people are getting it more” and “crucially they are the ones who should be receiving the lion’s share of the resources”. 

Oliver said it was crucial there be “specific, targeted public health guidance” though he acknowledged this messaging is a “bit of a minefield”.

“The queer community may be understandably reluctant to hear some straight person lecturing them about their sex lives, especially when that advice historically has so often come with an air of disapproval about it,” Oliver said. “And some in this current crisis have been tone deaf.”

He added that “every part” of the US government’s “early response to this made it harder than it needed to be”. But he said there has been “some progress on testing” and more vaccines are “finally coming with large numbers set to start arriving in October”. 

However, Oliver questioned whether the delays in fixing the problems had to do with “who’s been getting hit the hardest” in the monkeypox outbreak. 

John Oliver wears a blue shirt, striped tie and dark suit jacket on the set of HBO Max's Last Week Tonight. There is an graphic depicting monkeypox in the corner

John Oliver believes the response to the monkeypox outbreak would be ‘drastically different’ if it was ‘spreading largely through heterosexual sex’ (HBO Max)

“You have to believe that if monkeypox was spreading largely through heterosexual sex things would be drastically different,” Oliver said. “It is not homophobic to acknowledge who is currently most affected – which is gay and bisexual men, sex workers and people who participate in sex with multiple partners.

“What is homophobic is when you blame or shame the people who are suffering or when you decide you don’t need to care about this because you don’t see their lives as valuable or their suffering as consequential, and that is where there are strong echoes of the AIDS crisis in some of the discussion around monkeypox.”

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency in May and the US government declared the outbreak a public health emergency earlier this month. Health experts emphasised that anyone can get monkeypox and warned against reinforcing “homophobic and racist stereotypes” and exacerbating stigma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists are still researching if monkeypox can be “spread through semen, vaginal fluids, urine, or feces”. 

However, public health officials do know the virus can spread through close, personal – often skin-to-skin – contact. This can include direct contact with monkeypox rash or scabs; touching objects, fabrics and surfaces; and contact with respiratory secretions.

People wait in line for a monkeypox vaccine as a sign outside reads 'Monkeypox vaccine clinic DC residency required'

The US government has declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency (Getty/Alex Wong)

The CDC said direct contact can happen during sexual contact of a person with monkeypox, hugging, massaging, kissing and prolonged face-to-face contact. People should take care to disinfect bedding, towels, fetish gear, sex toys, and other fabrics and objects used during sex.

The Biden administration in the US has promised to ensure LGBTQ+ people are “respected and heard” in its response to the outbreak. 

Dr Demetre Daskalakis is the newly appointed monkeypox response deputy coordinator. He told PinkNews that it is the role of the government and governmental public health to “be a role model” to help the media “have language that works”, so “we don’t propagate stigma” that “can last for decades”.