@GaysOverCOVID Has Revealed A Lot More Than Gay Men Partying During A Pandemic
By doxxing those partying through the pandemic, @gaysovercovid has revealed the cracks within the LGBTIQ+ community.
Over the holiday period, the US reached a new depth of despair. More than 350,000 deaths have been officially linked to the COVID-19 virus, there has been a botched vaccine rollout, and hospitals in California are being forced to ration supplies as they reach breaking point.
Despite this, thousands of Americans have continued to travel both interstate and internationally over the holiday period — and one Instagram account, @gaysovercovid, has dedicated itself to naming, shaming, and doxxing the queer men who are attending circuit parties, at times helping to completely shut down events as they’re happening.
View this post on Instagram
As the account has exploded in influence — now boasting more than 100,000 followers — it’s gained attention on mainstream news outlets, and spurned a wider conversation on queer community, the ethics of doxxing, and duty of care.
The account, run anonymously, has been targeting LGBTIQ+ people — largely cis, white gay men — who have continued to party despite the pandemic, beginning in July after pictures of Independence Day and Fire Island parties appeared online, causing their own rounds of naming and shaming. But it began to really take off in December , after public shaming around the choice to travel had fallen into a familiar routine of ‘outrage then apology-without-consequence’.
The Kardashian family’s two scandals about Kim’s island birthday and Kendall’s Halloween party are prime examples, though the criticism has been levelled at celebrities and figures of all kinds, from Jake Paul to Charli D’Amelio and, in the case of call-outs like those on @gaysovercovid, (micro-)influencers and members of the public.
A new language and defence of movement formed, where a combination of quarantining, mask-wearing, safety protocols, and rapid COVID-19 tests became a licence for the entertainment industry to responsibly forge ahead.
Celebrities soon adopted similar measures, ignoring the fact that a private island getaway or party isn’t the same as work, where risk is mitigated by a need to provide economic support (admittedly foremost for companies and, to a lesser extent, workers) where the government failed to do so. They continued to post their own events to social media, so sheltered to not realise the response. Later, stars like Rita Ora would attempt to covertly hold private lockdown-breaking events, only for them to still leak out.
On a micro level, all this has been mirrored on @gaysovercovid and accounts like @businessteshno, which names and shames DJs for holding ‘plague raves’.
Over the Christmas break, as gay men attended parties in Los Angeles and Miami, and travelled for New Year’s Eve events in Mexico and Brazil, @gaysovercovid began to track individuals posting large Christmas dinners, events, and parties, as well as leaking event details where promoters asked attendees to not post prior or during the event. Somewhat surprisingly, many of the individuals targeted worked in healthcare.
A party literally across the street from one of LA’s over-stretched hospitals was shut down by police on New Year’s Eve, in some part due to the account.
View this post on Instagram
While this behaviour isn’t limited to gay men, the account and its popularity echoes a wider divide within the queer community: those astounded that the LGBTIQ+ community, ravaged by the AIDS pandemic, could act so recklessly, and those who believe it’s essential to their identity and community to hold these events.
Everyone’s The Main Character Now
The right to party, historically, is a political act for queer people, a space of sexual and personal liberation in an otherwise hostile environment. These queer spaces remain important today; their absence during COVID-19 is profoundly felt. As Benjamin Riley wrote for The Guardian, “queerness exists in those moments — not as an abstraction of identity but as something enacted and shared between people in queer spaces”.
Absence (alongside all other dreadful feelings) is arguably the definitive emotion of the pandemic, as we painfully forgo so many of life’s pleasures — including seeing family, both biological and chosen. To see people make individual decisions to travel is difficult, if not infuriating, for those at home. We are all guilty of watching others online with scorn, judging them while, no doubt, making allowances for our own slip-ups or lapses of judgement in the past year.
But @gaysovercovid picks upon a touchy subject within the queer community, the layers of privilege and self-interest that undercut the fallacy at the centre of queer identity: that the millions of us are, in fact, a community at all. It’s an utopic vision, best felt, ironically, in those fleeting moments of a dancefloor — hard to define, difficult to not have access to.
At its best or most ideal, this queerness is — as writer Dejan Jotanovic defined it on Twitter, referencing Cruising Utopia theorist José Esteban Muñoz — a verb, an action of care and connection between marginalised peoples.
But @gaysovercovid reveals how that care is oft self-centred — in defence of their actions, many circuit partiers and promoters have framed the events as a much-needed cleansing of 2020’s toxicity, as if their right to dance shirtless and feel joy is a right of their oppression. Gay nightlife and events are a cleanser, but in the pandemic, lack any true sense of care or community beyond immediate gratification.
And these party’s overwhelmingly white and cis-male demographic only echoes a larger lack of care that gay men can have for the rest of the LGBTIQ+ community, as (in Australia and America, at least) we experience fewer barriers of discrimination in our lives. Oppression isn’t a competition, and any individual may feel the need for these nightlife events more than another, but while LGBTIQ+ people continue to fight for rights and against discrimination within and outside our ‘community’, broadly speaking, white cis gay men have the ability to disengage if they so choose.
So, What Now?
At the same time, shaming and cancelling will not call people in. As activist Jason Rosenburg points out looking back at the AIDS crisis, “using shame as a public health tool does not change behaviour as much as we wish it did.”
Already, that’s clear — events have tried to go underground, and when called out, many accounts simply go private or call the critics ugly haters. It is peak main character syndrome, which apparently extends to COVID-19 immunity and the inability to infect vulnerable others.
View this post on Instagram
In an opinion piece for NewNowNext, writer Phillip Henry argues for less shaming and more harm reduction, a language mirroring successful AIDS and HIV management at a time when fear and stigma only propagated their spread.
“Let’s be real: An ‘abstinence only’ approach to ending a pandemic isn’t going to work. It’s just not realistic,” he writes. “People are going to gather, and there has to be room for discussion about harm reduction in these scenarios instead of simply writing everyone off as irredeemable, plague-spreading insurgents.”
“In many ways, a pandemic only underlines years of shame and discouragement that have led to some apathy among gays toward the value of their own lives…. That’s not to reduce the behaviour of attending a circuit party during a pandemic to mere pathology. Rather, it’s to acknowledge that many fixtures of our community, including these types of circuit parties, were born out of a rejection of shame. It’s myopic and silly to think that shame alone can be the solution to ending them.”
Demand change, from local electeds to federal legislators, on their inaction and neglect on relief, cuts to healthcare, delay on protections of people experiencing homelessness and in jails, and the utter inefficiency to address a public health crisis.
— Jason #StopSISEA Rosenberg (@mynameisjro) January 4, 2021
Watching from Australia, where we face state lockdowns at a cluster of less than 200 COVID-19 cases, it is hard to imagine people leaving their homes in the US right now, let alone going to thousand-person parties overseas. It’s hard to find anything but contempt for the people spotlighted on @gaysovercovid, but Henry is right in that shame and doxxing aren’t the answer.
On a microscopic level, it may feel like a win to ‘hold people accountable’, one which holds a lot of schadenfreude, playing off the tensions within the LBGTIQ+ umbrella. In the longterm, though, it won’t change behaviour. And @gaysovercovid’s response to involve the police to raid LGBTIQ+ parties — or an unaffiliated @gaysovercovidboston account using its platform to out a person’s HIV+ status — is regressive, an accidentally conservative act in an attempt towards ‘accountability’.
The answer out of a pandemic is a well-equipped public health system, a competent government, and sense of collective will. When the queer community faced the AIDS crisis, it was community that pulled through. And this pandemic reveals, unfortunately, the cracks within it.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and freelance writer who has written for The Guardian, The Big Issue and more. He’s on Twitter.