I got the monkeypox vaccine at a New Orleans gay bar. Here’s what it was like.

I got the monkeypox vaccine at a New Orleans gay bar. Here’s what it was like.

It was a trip I have made hundreds of times in my 33 years.

The roads are so familiar, it’s a route that I swear I could do with my eyes closed.

Pass through Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pearlington on Highway 90. Hop on Interstate 10 at NASA, keep driving west. Pass your favorite Slidell shopping spots and the Old Six Flags site.

Breathe in the fresh-roasted coffee smell from the Folgers plant while going over the I-10 High Rise bridge. Then, the city skyline.

Whether it be for an hour, a weekend an early morning breakfast or a late night at Cajun’s karaoke bar, New Orleans has always provided a spark of magic I don’t feel until I go over that very tall bridge.

New Orleans was always a place where I felt like I could be my authentic self, especially as a gay person living in the Deep South. The butterflies in my stomach were never nervous ones — until Tuesday.

Although I have been to Phoenix Bar in the Marigny dozens of times, I had to catch my breath while parking on the street.

Tuesday’s visit didn’t feel like a Friday night out or a Sunday solo trip to clear my head before the work week.

It was more than that. It felt like I was going to be part of history.

The leather bar — originally owned by a late Bay St. Louis restaurateur — has been a fixture in New Orleans for decades. They’re known for cheap drinks, heavy pours, being open 24/7/365 and hosting fundraisers and advocating for the LGBTQIA community.

And on Tuesday, Phoenix hosted a monkeypox vaccination drive, one of the first of its kind in the Deep South — that would provide 500 doses of the first shot.

This is significant because it’s making the vaccine easily accessible for the community, but also because it helps save the lives of LGBTQIA people, something gay bars in New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast have been doing for decades.

I was one of those first 500 people to get the monkeypox shot at Phoenix — No. 164 to be exact. Here’s how my experience went.

Monkeypox vaccine.jpg
Sun Herald editor Justin Mitchell receieved the first dose of the monkeypox vaccine at Phoenix Bar in New Orleans on Aug. 9, 2022. Justin Mitchell jmitchell@mcclatchy.com

2 p.m.

  • Check-in was at 4 p.m., and I arrived two hours early. Before making my way to Phoenix, I had breakfast at Who Dat Café in the Marigny and a late lunch at a vegan spot with a friend.
  • I thought getting there early would work to my advantage. I’m not a big fan of crowds. When I opened the front doors, however, the bar was wrapped with guests. At least 60 people had already gotten their Louisiana Department of Health forms and were celebrating with each other. Bud Lights in rainbow bottles and vodka tonics with lime were the most popular drinks of choice.
  • I went to the ATM to get cash to get a sugar-free Red Bull and a man stopped to tell me I needed to roll the sleeves of my shirt up to better “celebrate” my arms. He helped fold up the left side, exposing my tattoos.
  • I grabbed my health form from the bartender and had to use the light of the cigarette machine and the wall to fill it out.

3 p.m.

  • The bar had become so crowded with people that the bar asked those with forms to hang out on their sidewalk patio outside. At that point, about 300 people were there.
  • The Phoenix crew lined all of us up and announced that there would be 200 extra doses, meaning 500 folks (the original count was 300) would be getting the vaccine.
  • The line was so long, it went a whole block Elysian Fields Avenue and then some.
  • The bar provided cookies, Subway sandwiches and Fiji water as you waited outside.

5 p.m.

  • I had made it inside the bar and got my wristband. We then went to the upstairs bar to wait for our group number to be called.
  • The bartender upstairs kept the waters coming and even charged my dead cell phone. He was a literal saint.

6 p.m.

  • It was time to go down. After a little more paperwork and a few questions, a nurse called me up to the Phoenix’s outdoor bar, asked about allergies and prepped by arm for the shot.
  • I was on the way to eat pizza and pet a cute puppy by 6:30 p.m.

After

On the way home from New Orleans that night, I passed by the Phoenix again, where the block party was still going strong. A lot of national media’s reporting on monkeypox has made an inaccurate label of this being a “gay disease.” While it is prevalent in gay men, anyone who makes close skin to skin contact with someone who has monkeypox has been exposed. This affects everyone, and everyone should do their part.

And in the Big Easy on a hot Tuesday in August, the week of the Red Dress Run, it was a beautiful thing to see my LGBTQ+ family do their part in the fight against monkeypox. And it was a true honor to take part in it.

This story was originally published August 11, 2022 2:30 PM.

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Justin Mitchell is the Sun Herald senior news editor and works on McClatchy’s audience engagement and development team. He also reports on LGBTQ issues in the Deep South, particularly focusing on Mississippi.


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