(WASHINGTON) — Police in Washington, D.C., are investigating a suspected hate crime after two men were punched by assailants who hurled a gay slur at them while referencing monkeypox, according to a police report.
The incident occurred Sunday afternoon in Northwest D.C., according to a public incident report from the Metropolitan Police Department.
The two men were walking on Seventh Street NW when the suspects approached them and called them "monkeypox f-----s," according to the report. The suspects "punched them several times" before fleeing, according to the report. One of the victim's sunglasses were damaged in the attack, according to police.
The assault was first reported by D.C. LGBTQ publication Metro Weekly. The victims, a gay couple, were transported by police to the hospital following the attack, according to Metro Weekly.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was "extremely disturbed by the reported hate crime."
"We must stand up for our friends and neighbors, especially right now when there's too much anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric sweeping our nation," she said in a statement Tuesday. "We must call out the people in our circles if they promote hateful or ignorant ideology, especially right now when the people are using public health to stigmatize and discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community."
The police department's LGBT Liason Unit is involved in the investigation, the mayor said.
The Biden administration last week declared the current monkeypox outbreak to be a public health emergency in the U.S.
Most cases so far in the U.S. have been reported among men who have sex with men, a group that includes people who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender and nonbinary. However, health officials have repeatedly stressed that anyone can contract the virus.
Stigma against the illness has prompted concern from LGBTQ activists, who say they have seen a rise in homophobic or transphobic messages about monkeypox online.
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