A California state senator is being attacked on social media for a shirtless photo he posted of himself with other shirtless men at a local festival in San Francisco last weekend.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), 52, one of the state’s most high-profile LGBTQ elected officials, posted the photo to social media after attending the Folsom Street Fair, a sex-positive festival — held since 1984 — that celebrates the fetish and kink community and is popular among members of the LGBTQ community.
The resulting backlash from social conservatives was fierce, albeit predictable, with many Twitter users seeking to cast Wiener as a sexual deviant or call into question his decision-making skills for choosing to attend the festival.
“Yea please try to pass more laws on how I should parent my kids. You seem pretty qualified,” wrote one user.
“Is this an ad for an AIDS medication?” asked another.
“Why are you trying to normalize this?” commented a third user.
Still others criticized Wiener — whose district includes San Francisco, including the area where Folsom is held — for attending an event that is sexual in nature and allows public nudity within certain designated areas.
“I’ve seen the videos that come from this fair… this should be banned. It’s not right that these men have sex out in public like that,” tweeted a Twitter user.
“Do you know what this festival is about? Do you know what take place during it? I’m gay and I think this is trash. No senator should be promoting this,” wrote another.
Still others sought to compare the restrictions that were imposed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, including shutdowns, with the seeming lack of restrictions on social gathering at a time when the globe is experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox. Some even noted that Wiener had called on the government to declare the monkeypox outbreak a “state of emergency” back in July.
“is #Monkeypox over like Covid, Scottie?” tweeted a user trying to point out Wiener’s alleged hypocrisy.
“So you’re showing California is no longer under a state of emergency??” tweeted another.
Mixed martial artist Jake Shields, who became an outspoken opponent of COVID shutdowns, slammed Wiener on Twitter.
“Why did you close my gym down during covid but allow gay orgies during monkeypox?” asked Shields in response to the picture.
He later followed up with another tweet, writing: “The same politician who kept your kid out of school for two years because COVID is attending gay orgies during monkeypox. Feel free to Google Folsom street fair and see the wonderful delights he’s enjoying.”
Of course, some Twitter users defended the senator’s right to attend the Folsom Street Fair and even complimented him on his physique.
Wiener dismisses the bulk of criticism as simply noise from “right-wing trolls” who have been targeting him for years due to political disagreements. He notes that opponents have repeatedly reposted an older picture of him at Folsom in 2016, dressed in a leather vest, to attack him or paint him as a sexual deviant.
“This is about demonizing me, as a gay man in elected office, but also demonizing our community,” Wiener told Metro Weekly in an interview. “Folsom Street Fair is an amazing community event that brings so many people together. It’s incredibly festive and it’s just one of our best community events. And they try to turn it into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
“It’s part of an orchestrated effort to demonize LGBTQ people and specifically to demonize gay men as ‘sexual perverts’ or ‘predators.’ I get called ‘pedophile’ constantly. But that’s part of the history of gay men,” Wiener says of the faux outrage over the picture. “This is totally predictable. I knew when I posted it that people were going to lose their mind. But I can’t let my life be driven by how right-wing homophobes are going to respond.”
Wiener argues that there’s a difference between COVID — for which there was not initially a vaccine when the first cases were reported in the United States — and monkeypox, for which there already was a vaccine, albeit not widely available.
“I was supportive of the shelter-in-place [order] and the safety measures that happened during a global pandemic, where millions and millions and millions of people died,” he says. “Relating monkeypox to COVID makes no sense whatsoever. The reason why monkeypox infections have collapsed in San Francisco is that gay men like me got vaccinated. We prioritized getting vaccinated to protect ourselves and our community, and gay men also modified behaviors for a little while to stay safe.”
Wiener notes that San Francisco has a high proportion of LGBTQ individuals who have gotten vaccinated, and therefore no longer need to avoid attending large-scale gatherings like Folsom. But he also points out that many of his detractors have been using monkeypox as a way to attack gay men as “sex-obsessed” and to end a “sex-negative message” for months, which makes some of their current concern-trolling appear disingenuous.
He also notes that people harping about school closures are not aware of his past statements calling for the reopening of schools much earlier than other elected officials in San Francisco.
“What’s ironic about that criticism is that I was a proponent of reopening the schools, because I saw the harm that was happening to kids, particularly low-income kids who are really struggling to learn at home,” he says. “So obviously these people are clueless because in San Francisco, I was very much on the side of ‘we need to reopen schools.’ And I’m very critical of our school district and school board for delaying that decision.”
Wiener acknowledges that some of the issues he’s championed in the legislature can be considered controversial, pointing to bills to repeal HIV criminalization statutes, reform California’s sex offender registry, and protect sex workers from being arrested when reporting crimes or for loitering. But he’s not going to apologize for those stances.
“Sex is part of human existence. People have sex. And sex is, frankly, one of God’s gifts to humanity. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a single gay man and sex is a good thing,” he says.
“I know it makes some people uncomfortable to talk about sex on a policy level,” he adds. “And it makes some people uncomfortable to acknowledge politicians or elected officials are human beings and we also have sex. And that’s okay. If people are uncomfortable, that is for them to figure out.”
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